Violent intentions behind normal facade

Prayer beads inside the home of suspects Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in Redlands, California, on Dec 4.
Prayer beads inside the home of suspects Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in Redlands, California, on Dec 4. PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN BERNARDINO • Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik met online and married two years ago, after he presented himself on a Muslim dating site as a devout young man who liked to fix cars and memorise the Quran. They registered at Target when Malik became pregnant, with a cheery newlyweds' catalogue of wishes: a car seat, diapers and safety swabs.

But for all the outward signs of suburban normality, this couple, according to the police, used their comfortable home in a middle-class community near here to stockpile weapons and build pipe bombs. And on Wednesday morning, they left their six-month-old daughter with her grandmother before heading to a holiday party with Farook's co-workers where they killed 14 people and wounded 21 others. Hours later, they died in in a brutal face-off with the police.

As investigators puzzle over their motives, the couple - the husband was born in Illinois and raised in Southern California, the wife was born in Pakistan and recently lived in Saudi Arabia - have emerged as one of the most perplexing pairs in the recent history of mass homicide. Their lives, and motives, remain mysteries to investigators, who are looking at possible ties to international terrorism but have not ruled out the possibility that this was the bloody culmination of a workplace dispute.

Farook and Malik were observant Muslims, described by friends as quiet and unobtrusive. Farook, 28, graduated from California State University, San Bernardino, with a degree in environmental engineering. He worked for the San Bernardino County health department, checking food surfaces at restaurants and bakeries and chlorine levels in public swimming pools.

Syed Rizwan Farook was born in the United States and worked for the San Bernardino County health department.

Far less is publicly known about Malik, 27, who lived with Farook and his mother in Redlands, about 8km from where the attack took place.

Farook brought her to the United States in July last year, with a Pakistani passport and a K-1 visa, which designated her his fiancee. CNN, quoting officials, said Farook had been in contact with known terror suspects overseas and had become radicalised after marrying Malik in Saudi Arabia last year.

In registering for one of two dating services he used, Farook said he was open to dating a woman of any faith but was looking for "someone who takes her religion very seriously and is always trying to improve her religion".

Farook was known in the Muslim community here. From 2012 to last year, he showed up twice a day for services at the Islamic Center of Riverside, sometimes as early as 4.30am and again in the evenings, said Mr Mustafa H. Kuko, the director of the centre. In a mosque where attendance on Fridays regularly tops 1,000, Farook stood out as one of the most devout, wearing long robes to Friday services.

While Farook's parents were born in Pakistan, he was born in America. He had two sisters and a brother, according to a brother-in-law, Farhan Khan. His brother, Mr Syed Raheel Farook, enlisted in the Navy in 2003 and served for three years, Navy records show.

Mr Korey Roseman, 28, a former neighbour, said he spent time with the younger Farook growing up, but the boy was not permitted to stray far from the family home. "He was pretty cool at the time," Mr Roseman said. "He was soft-spoken, seemed intelligent. He was very nice. We used to play basketball in his front yard. The rest of his family was a little stand-offish for whatever reason."

Mr Kuko said he was still trying to make sense of the idea that someone like Farook could have been involved in mass murder.

"He's a mosquegoer," Mr Kuko said of Farook. "He comes to the mosque regularly. Something might have happened to him mentally, physically or whatever that made him change." He said. "I never thought of him as someone who is violent."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'Violent intentions behind normal facade'. Print Edition | Subscribe