California shooting: Leaving behind baby, couple launched deadliest US assault in years

Syed Rizwan Farook is pictured in his California driver's licence, in this undated handout provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles on Dec 3.
Syed Rizwan Farook is pictured in his California driver's licence, in this undated handout provided by the California Department of Motor Vehicles on Dec 3.PHOTO: REUTERS
Neighbors of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik walk to their home behind police lines to retrieve items after a mass shooting on Dec 3, 2015.
Neighbors of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik walk to their home behind police lines to retrieve items after a mass shooting on Dec 3, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

SAN BERNARDINO/NEW YORK (REUTERS) - At age 28, Syed Rizwan Farook inspected restaurants and public pools. A Muslim, he was from a self-described religious but modern California family.

But on Wednesday (Dec 2), he and Tashfeen Malik, 27, left their 6-month-old daughter with his mother, put on black assault-style clothing, armed themselves and launched the deadliest US shooting spree in three years.

The couple stormed a holiday party attended by his San Bernardino County co-workers, killing 14 people and wounding 21 in what appeared to be a planned attack before dying in a shootout with police, leaving a shaken community with few clues to deduce a motive for the carnage.

A US citizen born in Illinois, Farook worked as a county environmental health specialist, inspecting restaurants and swimming pools for health violations, according to authorities and a website that tracks public employees.

While he appeared not to have profiles on such popular social media sites as Facebook and LinkedIn, Farook was registered on at least three online dating sites. It was unclear when he had created those profiles.

On ArabLounge.com, a site for Arab singles "looking for dating, friendship and love," Farook described himself as single, "Allah fearing," calm, thoughtful and simple. "I try to live as a good Muslim," he wrote.

Farook said he was looking for a "girl who has the same outlook," who wears a hijab - the head covering worn in public by some Muslim women - but lives life to the fullest. His profile listed him as 1.83-m tall and a non-smoker with a "very liberal" political view. "Impulsive buying" gets on his nerves and lying turns him off, he said. He listed his income as US$30,000 to US$45,000 (S$42,318 to S$63,478).

On the iMilap.com site, Farook described himself as a 22-year-old Muslim male living in Riverside, California, who was from a "religious but modern family of 4 - 2 girls, 2 boys." He said he enjoyed working on vintage and modern cars, reading religious books and eating out on occasion.

Malik appeared to have almost no online presence, no visible profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn or other networking sites. But her name was attached to a gift registry for their baby hosted by the website TheBump.com. According to the registry, her baby was due on May 17.

Malik also signed up for Target's baby registry, asking for a car seat, baby wash, diapers and cotton swabs. All of the items are shown as purchased.

Co-workers told the Los Angeles Times that Farook had travelled to Saudi Arabia and returned with his new wife, whom he had met online.

Farook was the son of immigrant parents from Pakistan while Malik was born in Pakistan and lived in Saudi Arabia until she was introduced to Farook, according to Mr Hussam Ayloush, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). They were married for two years, Mr Ayloush said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Malik was in the United States on a visa under a Pakistani passport.

'THEY CAME PREPARED'

On Wednesday, Farook attended an annual holiday gathering for employees of his department, then left, only to return later with Malik and weapons, authorities said.

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said the shooting spree was clearly planned in advance and that the suspects had left several explosive devices, which appeared to be pipe bombs, at the scene of the massacre.

"They came prepared to do what they did as though they were on a mission," Mr Burguan sai, adding that Farook had no criminal record so far as police knew.

Ms SueAnn Chapman, a cashier and waitress at China Doll Fast Food, a restaurant that Syed Farook had inspected earlier this year, said he did not seem unusual.

"He was real quiet," she said. "He checked the food and said he was here because somebody complained. ... He looked completely normal."

The couple left their child with Farook's mother in the nearby city of Redlands, Mr Ayloush said, relaying information he had received from a brother-in-law of Farook. The couple said they were headed to a doctor's appointment for Malik.

Mr Burguan said police went to a house in Redlands on Wednesday afternoon, and saw the couple take off in a black sport utility vehicle. Police pursued the car to San Bernardino, where a wild gunbattle ensued that left Farook and Malik dead.

Public records suggest possible turbulence in Farook's younger life. In 2006, Ms Rafia Farook, who records indicate is Farook's mother, filed in a Riverside court for divorce from her husband, also named Syed Farook.

She listed multiple instances of domestic abuse in the legal filing, and said her husband "threatens to kill himself on a daily basis." During one incident, she said in a court filing, her son came between them "to save me."