FBI Director James Comey today confirmed that the probe into the massacre in San Bernardino is now “a federal terrorism investigation” as a result of evidence that the killers were “radicalized” and “potentially inspired” by foreign terrorist organizations.
But Comey said that so far the FBI has uncovered no evidence indicating that that the killers, Syden Rizwan Farook, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, both of whom are now deceased, were part of any terrorist cell.
“There is no indication they were part of a network,” said Comey at a press briefing at FBI headquarters. Still, he cautioned, “there is a lot of evidence in this case that doesn’t quite make sense.”
Comey’s remarks came as the Islamic State itself took credit for the massacre that killed 14 people and wounded 21. The SITE Intelligence Service reported that a news agency linked to ISIS released a message Friday saying that two “supporters of the Islamic State” attacked the building in San Bernardino and that the assault came after statements from American officials that the United States ‘is far away from ‘terrorist attacks.’”
In yet another message, a known ISIS tweeter by the name of Jazrawi Daesh announced on Twitter “the martyrdom” of Farouk and Malik “after completing mission,” according to the Counter Extremism Project, a group that monitors IS on social media, which provided a copy of the message to Yahoo News. Shortly after that message, Daesh’s Twitter account was suspended.
Comey declined to say whether the FBI had any evidence that the San Bernardino killers were actually known to ISIS before the attacks or the terror group was simply taking advantage of media reports about the attacks in order to inflate its importance or reach in the United States.
And while confirming reports that Farouk had some contacts with individuals who were the subjects of FBI terrorism investigations in the past, he cautioned reporters not to make make too much of those associations at this point. None of those contacts were significant enough to put either Farouk or Malik on the bureau’s radar screen prior to this week, he said, and the FBI is still trying to determine what to make of them, suggesting at one point that the contacts may have been innocent.
Similarly, Comey confirmed reports that Malik had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook prior to the attacks, but declined to provide any details.
One issue that investigators have focused on is how the killers obtained the weapons used in the attacks, including two AR-15 assault rifles that are banned in the state of California. Those rifles were bought by another individual who the FBI has identified and interviewed, Comey said, but the person is not a suspect in the case. The director, however, declined to say how they obtained the weapons were transferred to the killers.
Malik is from Pakistan and Farouk had traveled to Saudi Arabia last summer. But Comey pointedly declined to discuss the level of cooperation the FBI is getting from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in seeking to retrace the couple’s travels and who they may have been contact with in those countries. In addition, he said, the FBI was still seeking to conduct forensic examinations of cell phones, computers and other material retrieved from the couple’s apartment that have been flown back to the bureau’s lab at Quantico, Virginia. But he noted the process could take some time.
“We are going through a tremendous amount of electronic evidence-- this is evidence that these killers tried to destroy and to conceal from us” prior to the attacks, he said.