California shooters radicalized years ago, FBI says

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The two San Bernardino shooters became radicalized at least two years ago — well before one of them came to the U.S. on a fiancée visa — and had discussed jihad and martyrdom as early as 2013, FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday in providing the most specific details to date about the couple’s path toward extremism.

Investigators are also looking at whether the husband accused in the shootings, Syed Rizwan Farook, had planned an attack in 2012 but abandoned those plans, according to two people familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

One week into its investigation, the FBI now believes that Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, embraced radical Islamic ideology even before starting their initial relationship, which began online, Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also said Malik held extremist views before she arrived in the U.S. last year.

The FBI believes the pair was inspired in part by Islamic State ideology — Malik pledged allegiance to the group’s leader in a Facebook post around the time of last week’s massacre, in which 14 people were killed. But agents are still looking for other motivations and sources of radicalization, especially because the couple’s interest in extremism predates the terror group’s emergence as a household name.

“ISIL inspiration may well have been part of this, but these two killers were starting to radicalize towards martyrdom and jihad as early as 2013,” Comey said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “And so that’s really before ISIL became the global jihad leader that it is.”

The latest disclosure also suggests that the government’s security screening process failed to detect Malik’s radicalization when she applied for the visa, though Comey said he didn’t know enough to say whether weaknesses in the visa process enabled her to enter the U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee chairman, noted in his opening remarks that Malik managed to get the visa even after giving misleading information in her application.

“Our government apparently didn’t catch the false address in Pakistan she listed on her application or other possible signs that she was radicalized or an operative,” Grassley said about Malik. “This is yet another example of the failure of the screening process for those entering the United States.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat on the panel, said disclosures about the way Malik arrived in California were unsettling.

“After this hearing today, every American will be asking the question, how did this woman come in on a fiancée visa?” Schumer said.

Malik came to the United States in July 2014 from Pakistan after being approved for a K-1, or fiancée visa. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said the Obama administration is now reviewing the program. He hasn’t said what changes may be made.

Malik’s father, reached in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, condemned his daughter’s actions and said he is “very, very sad. … I am in such pain that I cannot even describe it.”

The father, Gulzar Ahmed Malik, has been a resident in the kingdom since the early 1980s, the Saudi Interior Ministry says. His daughter was from Pakistan but traveled to Saudi Arabia. A former classmate, Afsheen Butt, said Malik showed drastic changes after a trip to Saudi Arabia in late 2008 or early 2009.

In addition to killing more than a dozen victims last week, Malik and Farook left 21 injured. A former California neighbor of Farook, Enrique Marquez, bought the two rifles used in the attack, officials say.

One law enforcement official briefed on the investigation says Marquez has told investigators that he and Farook planned an attack in 2012 but abandoned the idea. Marquez, who reportedly converted to the Muslim faith, is a relative of Farook’s through marriage. The official says it’s unclear what spooked them into cancelling the apparent plot.

Comey described the couple as an example of homegrown violent extremists who appear to have radicalized “in place,” drawing a distinction between the San Bernardino attack and the one last month in Paris that officials suspect involved planning and training in Syria. He said the FBI did not yet know if the marriage of Farook and Malik was arranged by a foreign terrorist organization.

The FBI has revealed little else of what it’s learned about Farook and Malik and their planning, except for details about the weaponry they had, materials they had to make more pipe bombs and that both had practiced shooting skills at local firing ranges. Police and federal authorities initially described the attack as a possible case of workplace violence and have said since they had not found any indications that any outside groups were involved.

The shooters were driving in an ammunition-laden SUV that had been rented just days earlier when they were cornered by police and died in a shootout. They destroyed two cell phones in an apparent effort to conceal their past communications and left an improvised explosive device at the shooting scene, wired to go off as first responders arrived. It failed to detonate.

A U.S. official said Tuesday that authorities have looked into a deposit made to Farook’s bank account before the attack. The official, who had been briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity, would not characterize further the nature of the deposit or why it had caught the attention of investigators. A second official confirmed that the deposit was for $28,500.