Obama vows US 'will not be terrorized' as IS hails California attackers

Los Angeles (AFP) - President Barack Obama vowed Saturday that America "will not be terrorized" as the Islamic State group praised the couple behind the California mass shooting as "soldiers" of its self-proclaimed caliphate.

"We are Americans. We will uphold our values -- a free and open society," Obama said in his weekly radio address. "And we will not be terrorized."

The White House said Obama met with top security officials who indicated that Syed Farook, 28, and his 29-year-old Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik had been radicalized but that nothing at this point indicated that they were "part of an organized group or formed part of a broader terrorist cell."

The pair massacred 14 people and wounded 21 others at a year-end office party in San Bernardino on Wednesday and later died in a shootout with police.

In a radio broadcast in English, the Islamic State group praised the couple as "soldiers of the caliphate" and martyrs but did not specifically say they were members of the extremist group.

The mass shooting, the worst in the United States in three years, has again revived the debate on gun control in a country where such killings have become routine.

"Right now, people on the No-Fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That is insane," said Obama, who has repeatedly urged the Republican-controlled Congress to adopt tougher gun laws.

"If you're too dangerous to board a plane, you're too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun."

The New York Times added its voice to the debate, publishing a front-page editorial -- the first since 1920 -- calling for an end to "the gun epidemic in America."

"It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency," it said.

- 'Weapons altered' -

Authorities said that while the two rifles used by the couple in the massacre had been purchased legally, they had been altered to make them more powerful.

"One of the rifles was modified to accept large capacity magazines and the receiver on the other had been altered to fire as a machine gun but it did not function," Meredith Davis, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told AFP.

She said the two altered rifles were purchased by a third party being questioned by authorities.

Davis said two handguns also used in the rampage had been purchased by Farook along with a third rifle found at the couple's home with some 5,000 rounds of ammunition, 12 pipe bombs and bomb-making material.

Authorities believe the pair, who married last year in Saudi Arabia, where Malik lived, carefully planned their attack now being investigated as an act of terrorism.

"We have uncovered evidence that has led us to learn of extensive planning," David Bowdich, the assistant FBI director in charge of the Los Angeles office, told reporters.

"There's a number of pieces of evidence that has essentially pushed us off the cliff to say we are now investigating this as an act of terrorism," he said, adding that the couple had attempted to destroy their digital fingerprints.

Bowdich said investigators were examining a Facebook posting in which Malik is believed to have pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, made around the time of the attack.

The massacre, if proven to be terror-related, would be the deadliest such assault on American soil since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Relatives of Farook and his wife have been at a loss to explain what triggered the killing spree, describing them as a quiet couple who kept to themselves.

"I can never imagine my brother or my sister-in-law doing something like this. Especially because they were happily married, they had a beautiful six-month-old daughter," Farook's sister Saira Khan told CBS News.

"It's just mind-boggling why they would do something like this."

The family's attorneys said the couple were devout, conservative Muslims, but there was no hint they had become radicalized.

Attorney Mohammad Abuershaid said few people came in contact with Malik, who wore the full-face veil.

"The women (in the family) communicated with her. Farook didn't want anyone else to talk to her," he said, adding that the men in the family had never even seen Malik's face.

A US defense official said Farook's brother was a decorated Navy veteran who won medals for his service during America's "war on terror."

- 'Brilliant student' -

In Pakistan, Khalid Janbaz, former dean of the pharmacy department at Bahauddin Zakariya University, described Malik as a "brilliant student."

Former classmate Abdia Rani told AFP that she had "gradually turned religious," and over time became more serious and withdrawn.

"But we never thought that she had extremist links or even can be an extremist," Rani said.

French President Francois Hollande, whose country suffered a series of terror attacks last month that left 130 people dead and were claimed by IS, spoke with Obama to offer his support and condolences.