What's the San Bernadino shooters' Saudi connection?
Officials say shooter Syed Farook went to Saudi Arabia, where he met his wife. The couple left their infant daughter with her grandmother before killing 14 people at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino.
He was born in Illinois, and raised in Southern California. She was said to have been a pharmacist, previously living in Saudi Arabia. They had a 6-month-old daughter, drove a Yukon Denali, and according to a colleague, they seemed to be living the American Dream.
But on Wednesday, husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire at an office holiday party in the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Mr. Farook worked there as an environmental health specialist for the San Bernardino County health department, making more than $50,000 a year. According to police, the couple killed 14 people and wounded at least 21 others. Hours later, they were killed in a shootout with the police two miles from the health department offices.
As police have yet to confirm their motive, Farook’s family members and colleagues have reflected on his character and the young couple’s life together, piecing together a tenuous image of normalcy and quiet civility. Authorities said on Thursday, however, that Farook had recently been radicalized and in correspondence with possible international terrorists investigated by the FBI.
“Why would he do something like this? I have absolutely no idea. I am in shock myself,” Malik’s brother-in-law, Farhan Khan, told The Los Angeles Times.
His father, the elder Syed Farook, told New York Daily News that his son was a devout Muslim.
“I haven’t heard anything,” he said, on his son before news of the tragedy broke. “He was very religious. He would go to work, come back, go to pray, come back.”
The younger Farook is an American citizen, and his parents were born in Pakistan. According to his own online dating profile, his family was secular, with “Eastern and Western” family values, CNN reported.
On iMilap.com, "a site for people with disabilities and second marriage," Farook’s profile said he "enjoys working on vintage and modern cars, reads religious books, enjoys eating out sometimes."
He also enjoys travelling, “and just hanging out in the back yard doing target practice with his younger sister and friends,” it read.
Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2013 for the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, according to government officials. It was there that he met Malik, a native of Pakistan. She returned to the US with him under a "fiancée visa." The two have been married for two years, and neither was ever documented as a potentially radicalized person. But Farook had "overseas communications and associations" with people suspected of ties to terrorism, one official said.
Farook’s co-workers told the Times that in the three years Farook worked at the center, he seldom initiated conversation but was well-liked. They knew he was a devout Muslim, but he rarely discussed his religion. Officials suggest workplace grievances may have played a role in the carnage.
Patrick Baccari, a fellow health inspector who shared a cubicle with Farook, knew he had a baby. They appeared to be “living the American Dream,” he said.
Griselda Reisinger, who left the department earlier this year, said she heard the office threw a baby shower for Farook, who left for paternity leave when his daughter was born.
"He never struck me as a fanatic, he never struck me as suspicious," Ms. Reisinger said.
Farook’s mother was surprised about the shooting as well, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of LA’s Council on American-Islamic Relations’ office, said. She had been left with the couple’s daughter the morning of the shooting. They told her they had a doctor’s appointment.
But on that morning, Farook attended the party at the center, which provides social services to people with disabilities. At some point, he left in anger.
When he returned, he was with Malik. They were clad in tactical gear and carried .223-caliber assault-style rifles, semiautomatic handguns, and explosive devices. The firearms, law enforcement officials say, were all purchased legally.
For Thursday and Friday, San Bernandino county has suspended all non-essential services.
Authorities have reiterated that the killers’ motives remain undisclosed. They are looking into the possibility of a third suspect.
“We condemn this horrific and revolting attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured,” Mr. Ayloush said in a statement.
“The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence.”