- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2015

Law enforcement authorities edged closer Thursday to the conclusion that the Muslim husband and wife team that carried out the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, may have been radicalized by Islamic extremists either in the U.S. or during trips the couple made to the Middle East, including to Saudi Arabia.

While intelligence sources say there is still no explicit evidence linking the two to known terrorists on U.S. or foreign watch lists, the FBI has reportedly begun treating its probe into Wednesday’s massacre — in which 14 people were killed and 21 injured, including two police officers — as a counterterrorism investigation.

The bureau’s posture can be explained in part by the large cache of ammunition and explosives found in a home linked to the couple, but also because of prospect that Islamic extremism may have played a role in the attack, officials said.

SEE ALSO: San Bernardino attackers’ arsenal: 5,000 rounds of ammunition, 15 pipe bombs

But one official, who spoke anonymously with The Washington Times, cautioned against jumping to conclusions, saying that the investigation is still very young and asserting that “radicalization can happen in a number of different inflection points and in a number of different ways. It’s not a one size fits all sort of thing.”

The official confirmed that U.S. authorities are scrambling to create a record of whom Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent and his wife, 27-year-old Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani citizen, met with during visits to Saudi Arabia and other Middle East nations during recent years, as well as during time that both spent in Pakistan prior last year.

Fresh details continued to emerge about the background of the two — a day after they were killed in a firefight with police.

SEE ALSO: White House says stricter gun laws can prevent terrorist attacks

The State Department confirmed Thursday that Malik held a Pakistani passport and was in the U. S. on a “K-1” visa reserved for fiancées of U.S. citizens. Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that Malik was granted the visa in Islamabad and would have had to have undergone “counterterrorism screening” in order to receive the document from U.S. authorities.

But specifics on the timing of the visa, as well as other details about Malik’s travel were still not clear on Thursday. While investigators said that Farook had traveled at one point to Pakistan, before returning to the U.S. in July 2014 with his bride to be, it was unclear what other countries the couple may have traveled to together.

Mr. Toner told reporters that the State Department simply does not track the movements of U.S. citizens overseas.

The official who spoke anonymously with The Times, meanwhile, said that it was entirely possible the couple may have had contact with extremists during their foreign travels or while in the U.S., but that the extent of those contacts is unclear.

“If you’re in a minority in whatever country you’re in, a lot of the relationships may be tight nit, so the chance that you’re going to have contacts with people that may be of interest to authorities, that’s plausible,” the official said. “But the chance that there’s a close relationship there is unknown and won’t’ be know until further investigation.”

The couple had a 6-month-old daughter, who was left in a relative’s care before they stormed the Inland Regional Center where they sprayed a conference room with up to 75 rounds. Three pipe bombs configured as one large explosive device were also recovered from the center.

Officials said the couple worked in coordination as they attempted to flee law enforcement officers who had zeroed in on the Redlands, California, home they rented together.

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Ms. Malik began shooting at officers from the backseat of the rented SUV that Mr. Farook drove as they tried to flee the house. The pair wore tactical-style clothes and carried four firearms, two assault rifles and two handguns — all of which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has determined were purchased legally.

Investigators later discovered more than 4,500 rounds of ammunition, 12 pipe bombs and additional materials for making explosives inside the home. Approximately 1,500 additional rounds of ammunition were found in the vehicle and on their bodies

During the shootout, the couple fired 76 rounds, while law enforcement officers unleashed about 380, the police chief said.

Mr. Farook, a San Bernardino County employee, had attended the holiday banquet at the Inland Regional Center before leaving the event and returning with his wife and several assault rifles in tow.

Accounts have emerged that Mr. Farook had an angry dispute with someone at the party before he left, but police at a Thursday press conference said they are still investigating the information and have gotten varying stories from witnesses.

Authorities declined to say Thursday whether the shooting spree was motivated by terrorism, but Chief Burguan said the attack had some obvious evidence of pre-planning.

“There appears to be a degree of planning that went into this,” Chief Burguan said. “Nobody just gets upset at a party and goes home and plans an attack like that.”

Co-worker Patrick Baccari said he was sitting at the same table as Mr. Farook, who suddenly disappeared. Mr. Baccari said that when the shooting started, he took refuge in a bathroom and suffered minor wounds from shrapnel slicing through the wall.

The shooting lasted about five minutes, he said, and when he looked in the mirror he realized he was bleeding.

“If I hadn’t been in the bathroom, I’d probably be laying dead on the floor,” he said.

Mr. Baccari described Mr. Farook as reserved and said he showed no signs of unusual behavior. Earlier this year, he traveled to Saudi Arabia, was gone for about a month and returned with a wife, later growing a beard, Mr. Baccari said.

The couple dropped off their daughter with relatives Wednesday morning, saying they had a doctor’s appointment, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said after talking with family Wednesday night.

“We don’t know the motives. Is it work, rage-related? Is it mental illness? Is it extreme ideology? At this point, it’s really unknown to us, and at this point it’s too soon to speculate,” Mr. Ayloush said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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