ISIS says California mass killers were its followers

The two California shooting attackers, Syed Farook (left) and Tashfeen Malik.
The two California shooting attackers, Syed Farook (left) and Tashfeen Malik.PHOTO: AFP

SAN BERNARDINO, California (REUTERS) – Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said on Saturday that the married couple who killed 14 people in a mass shooting in California which US authorities are investigating as an act of terrorism were its followers.

The militant group made the statement in an online radio broadcast three days after US-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 29, from Pakistan, attacked a holiday party for civil servants in San Bernardino, about 100km east of Los Angeles.

The pair, who had left their six-month-old baby daughter with relatives, were killed two hours later in a shootout with police.

Officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the probe into the Dec 2 shooting, said Malik and her husband appeared to have been inspired by foreign militant groups, but that there was no sign they had worked with any of them or that ISIS even knew who they were.

If the mass shooting proves to have been the work of people inspired by Islamist militants, it would mark the deadliest such attack in the United States since Sept 11, 2001.

US President Barack Obama’s team said on Saturday it has not yet found evidence that the couple was part of an organised group or broader terrorist cell.

There were, however, “several pieces” of information that“point to the perpetrators being radicalised to violence,” the White House said in a statement.

If that turned out to be the case, Obama said in a radio address, “it would underscore a threat we’ve been focused on for years, the danger of people succumbing to violent extremist ideologies.”

ISIS also claimed responsibility for a Nov 13 series of attacks in Paris in which gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people.

“Two followers of Islamic State attacked several days ago a centre in San Bernardino in California,” the group’s daily online radio broadcast al-Bayan said on Saturday.

An English-language version of the broadcast released later called the attackers “soldiers” of ISIS, rather than “followers” as in the original Arabic. It was unclear if the English version was claiming them as members, or why there was an inconsistency.

The broadcast came a day after Facebook confirmed that comments praising ISIS were posted around the time of the mass shooting to an account on the social media website established by Malik under an alias.

However, it was uncertain whether the comments were posted by Malik herself or someone with access to her page.

INFLAMED DEBATE ON GUNS

The couple had two assault-style rifles, two handguns, 6,100 rounds of ammunition and 12 pipe bombs in their home or with them when they were killed, officials said, prompting fears they might have been planning further attacks.

The mass shooting sparked a new round of the firearms debate with Obama and the New York Times calling for new limits on gun ownership.

Many pro-gun voices, including some Republican contenders for the White House, said the new laws would not have stopped the rampage.

“It’s another tragic reminder that here in America it’s way too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun,” said Obama.

 

The New York Times, in its first front-page editorial since 1920, said it was “a moral outrage and a national disgrace” that the sort of firearms used in the attack were readily available.

“These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection,”the newspaper said.

The newspaper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, said the editorial was intended “to deliver a strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish about our country’s inability to come to terms with the scourge of guns.”

But Republican White House frontrunner Donald Trump dismissed the New York Times’ call for action.

“People in this country and the world need protection,” Trump told reporters in Iowa before a campaign event.  “If you look at Paris, they didn’t have guns and they were slaughtered. If you look at California, they didn’t have guns and they were slaughtered.”

US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican also seeking the presidential nomination, said restrictions on guns would not have stopped the California attack or other mass shootings, including recent attacks on an Oregon college and a Planned Parenthood health clinic in Colorado.

REPORT OF CONTACT WITH FOREIGN FIGHTERS

Citing an unnamed federal law enforcement official, the Los Angeles Times reported that Farook had “some kind” of contact with people from the Nusra Front and the radical al Shabaab group in Somalia, though the nature of that contact was unclear.

Farook family attorneys denied on Friday there had been any evidence that either the husband or wife harbored extremist views.

She spoke Urdu and broken English, Farook family lawyer David Chesley said, adding: “She was very conservative.”

They said Farook, too, largely kept to himself, had few friends, and they said that co-workers sometimes made fun of his beard.

Pakistani intelligence officials have contacted Malik’s family in her homeland as part of the investigation, a family member said.