California shooter attended madrasah in Pakistan

The Al-Huda Institute (above), one of the most well-known female madrasahs in Pakistan, has no known extremist links but came under fire from critics who said its ideology echoes that of the Taleban.
The Al-Huda Institute (above), one of the most well-known female madrasahs in Pakistan, has no known extremist links but came under fire from critics who said its ideology echoes that of the Taleban.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MULTAN (Pakistan) • The woman who shot dead 14 people in California with her husband last week attended one of Pakistan's most high-profile religious seminaries for women, a teacher there said .

Pakistan-born Tashfeen Malik, 29, studied at the Al-Huda Institute in the southern city of Multan. It is one of the most well-known female madrasahs in the country, which targets middle-class women and also has offices in the United States, United Arab Emirates, India and Britain, said the teacher, who gave her name only as Muqadas.

The probe is trying to establish if she had contact with Islamic radicals in either country. "It was a two-year course, but she did not finish it," the teacher said. "She was a good girl. I don't know why she left and what happened to her."

The institute has no known extremist links, though it has come under fire in the past from critics who say its ideology echoes that of the Taleban. Ms Farrukh Saleem, a spokesman for Al-Huda, said: "Government or law enforcement agencies have never suspected us of spreading extremism - instead, we preach the peaceful teachings of Islam and the Prophet of Islam."

The teacher did not say when Malik studied at the seminary, but fellow classmates at the Bahauddin Zakariya University said she went to the madrasah after classes at the university, which she attended from 2007 to 2012.

Two of her former classmates at the university said she had drastically changed during her time there. "Gradually she became more serious and strict," one said, requesting anonymity. Malik became withdrawn and stopped participating in classes, another said.

Teachers describe Malik as devout and always wearing the niqab and avoiding contact with men.

Malik also developed a reputation as someone who was deeply rooted in her Saudi upbringing. After two years of living at a hostel for female students, she complained to one faculty member that she was uncomfortable with the behaviour of the other women. "She told me, 'My parents live in Saudi Arabia, and I am not getting along with my roommates and cannot adjust," a member of staff recalled.

Mr Badar Alam, editor of the Herald magazine, said Malik appeared to have become radicalised gradually. "She was raised in Saudi Arabia so she became a Salafi. She joined Al-Huda. She married a US Muslim who was influenced by events in the Middle East - this is the making of an international terrorist in today's world."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'California shooter attended madrasah in Pakistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe