California shooters had plotted since 2012: FBI

WASHINGTON • The couple at the centre of last week's massacre in San Bernardino, California had been radicalised before their marriage. The husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, might also have plotted an attack as far back as 2012 with one of his long-time friends, senior law enforcement officials have said.

The new timeline suggests that Farook and wife, Tashfeen Malik, considered violent action before the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rose to prominence last year and began trying to inspire sympathisers to carry out attacks in the West.

It also raises questions about how thoroughly United States law enforcement and immigration officials vetted the wife before giving her a visa to enter the US from Pakistan a year before the shooting, which left 14 dead and 21 wounded.

"ISIL inspiration may well have been part of this, but these two killers were starting to radicalise towards martyrdom and jihad as early as 2013," Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey said during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, using another acronym for ISIS.

Mr Comey said the FBI still believed the couple had been inspired by foreign extremist groups, but it had not found evidence they were ordered to attack by ISIS or any other group. "We are working very hard to see if anyone else was involved in assisting, equipping or helping them," he said.

As of now, he said, the authorities have not found any ISIS "cells or networks" in the country.

Mr Comey also said that the couple, who some relatives say met on an online dating site, had been radicalised at least as far back as two years ago. They were "talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and married and were living in the US", he said.

Farook and Malik travelled to the US in July last year. Mr Comey said the authorities were trying to determine if their marriage had been arranged by extremists in order for Malik to gain access to the US. "It would be a very, very important thing to know," he said.

The account of a possible attack in 2012 came from Mr Enrique Marquez, a long-time friend and former neighbour of Farook's, according to law enforcement officials who would speak only anonymously.

Mr Marquez, whose wife is sister-in-law to Farook's brother and either sold or gave Farook the two assault rifles used in the attack, has told the authorities that in 2012, he and Farook had plans for an attack at that time.

"He has admitted that in 2012 they had something in mind and they didn't do it because there had been some immediate arrests by the counter-terrorism people," Senator James Risch, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN.

"And, as a result of that, they got cold feet."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'California shooters had plotted since 2012: FBI'. Print Edition | Subscribe