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Sunday 21 January 2018

California shootings couple 'not part of terror cell'

A woman grieves for the shooting victims during a candlelight vigil at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino (AP)
A woman grieves for the shooting victims during a candlelight vigil at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino (AP)

The husband and wife who carried out the California mass shooting showed signs of radicalisation but were not part of a broader network, the FBI says.

But Director James Comey noted there's still "a lot evidence that doesn't quite make sense".

Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik didn't appear on the FBI's "radar screen" before the shooting on Wednesday that killed 14 in San Bernardino, California, said Mr Comey.

An IS-affiliated news agency Aamaq says the couple were "supporters" of the Islamic State group, but it stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack.

The couple opened fire at a holiday banquet for Farook's co-workers before dying in a gunbattle with police.

The FBI is treating the attack as an "act of terrorism".

The couple attempted to destroy evidence, including crushing two mobile phones and discarding them in a rubbish bin, said David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI's Los Angeles office.

Malik praised the leader of the IS group in a Facebook post just minutes into the attack, a Facebook executive said.

A law enforcement official said Malik pledged allegiance to IS and its leader on Facebook, making her posts under an alias.

Facebook discovered the account on Thursday and removed the profile from public view.

Malik and Syed Farook targeted people at a holiday party for his co-workers. The Muslim couple were killed hours later in a gunbattle with police.

Malik, 27, was a Pakistani who grew up in Saudi Arabia and came to the US in 2014 on a fianc ee visa. Farook, a 28-year-old restaurant health inspector, was born in Chicago to Pakistani parents and raised in California.

Another US official said Malik expressed "admiration" for the extremist group's leader on Facebook under the alias account. But there was no sign that anyone affiliated with the Islamic State communicated back with her.

The two US officials and the the Facebook official asked not to be named.

Separately, a US intelligence official said on Thursday that Farook had been in contact with known Islamic extremists on social media.

Law enforcement officials have long warned that Americans acting in sympathy with Islamic extremists - though not on direct orders - could launch an attack inside the US. Using slick propaganda, IS in particular has urged sympathisers worldwide to commit violence in their countries.

Two weeks ago, with Americans on edge over the IS attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead, FBI Director James Comey said that US authorities had no specific or credible intelligence pointing to an attack on American soil.

Seventy-one people have been charged in the US since March 2014 in connection with supporting ISIS, including 56 this year, according to a recent report from the George Washington University Programme on Extremism. Though most are men, "women are taking an increasingly prominent role in the jihadist world," the report said.

It was not immediately clear whether Malik exhibited any support for radical Islamists before she arrived in the US - or, like scores of others arrested by the FBI, became radicalised online or through face-to-face meetings.

To receive her visa, Malik was subjected to a vetting process including in-person interviews, fingerprints, checks against terrorist watch lists and reviews of her family members, travel history and places where she lived and worked.

Foreigners applying from countries that are home to Islamic extremists - such as Pakistan - undergo additional scrutiny before the State Department and Homeland Security approve their applications.

Pakistani intelligence officials said Malik moved as a child with her family to Saudi Arabia 25 years ago.

They said the family is originally from a town in Punjab province and that the father initially moved to Saudi Arabia around three decades ago for work.

Another person close to the Saudi government said Malik didn't stay in Saudi Arabia, eventually returning to Pakistan and living in the capital, Islamabad, though she returned to Saudi Arabia for visits.

Farook had no criminal record and was not under scrutiny by local or federal law enforcement before the attack, authorities said.

"This was a person who was successful, who had a good job, a good income, a wife and a family. What was he missing in his life?" asked Nizaam Ali, who worshipped with Farook at a mosque in San Bernardino.

The couple sprayed as many as 75 rounds into the room before fleeing and had more than 1,600 rounds left when they were killed. At home, they had 12 pipe bombs, tools to make more explosives and well over 4,500 rounds, police said.

The dead ranged in age from 26 to 60. Among the 21 injured were two police officers hurt during the manhunt, authorities said. Two of the wounded remained in critical condition.

The soft-spoken Farook was known to pray every day at San Bernardino's Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah mosque.

The last time a friend, Rahemaan Ali, saw him was three weeks ago, when Farook stopped coming to pray. Rahemaan Ali said Farook seemed happy and his usual self.

Press Association

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