NEW YORK/SAN BERNARDINO – The female shooter who was involved in the killing of 14 people and wounding of 21 others in the southern California attack swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi in a Facebook post, American media reported Friday, citing US officials.
The FBI is now investigating the massacre as an “act of terrorism,” an official said.
Tashfeen Malik, 27, a Pakistani citizen, pledged her allegiance to the militant group on an account with a different name, the officials said, but did not explain how they knew Ms Malik made the post.
She and her 28-year-old husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, a US citizen of Pakistani ancestry, carried out the attack on Wednesday at a social services centre hosting a Christmas party in San Bernardino.
Ms Malik married Farook two years ago in Saudi Arabia after the pair met online, according to a family member and a friend. The couple were both killed in a shootout with police following the rampage in which 14 people were shot dead.
“Investigators believe this is ISIS-inspired. She pledged her allegiance to al-Baghdadi,” the conservative New York Post said, citing a source briefed on the matter.
According to the pro-IS Arabic-language news agency Aamaq, sympathisers of the Islamic State group carried out the mass shooting. “Two sympathisers of the Islamic State attacked a centre in San Bernardino, California, opening fire inside the location, killing 14 people and wounding 21,” a statement from the agency said.
Aamaq is active in IS-run territories but is not considered to be the jihadist group’s mouthpiece and does not claim attacks on its behalf.
“This operation comes after the bloody Paris attacks, which were carried out by fighters from the state… which caused the killing of dozens, and after a martyrdom-seeking operation on presidential security in the centre of the Tunisian capital,” it said.
Aamaq did not say what the motive was.
US investigators are evaluating evidence that Malik had pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, two US officials told Reuters. They said the finding, if confirmed, could be a “game changer” in the investigation, though another source cautioned there was no indication that there was no evidence Islamic State “even knew” who the shooters were.
“Based on the information and the facts as we know them, we are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism,” David Bowdich, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Los Angeles office, told reporters.
Investigators have determined that the Malik and Farook engaged in extensive planning before the attack, he said.
Bowdich also said the FBI also was examining crushed cellphones found near the shooting scene and had established that there were “telephonic connections” between the couple and other people of interest in FBI probes. The couple had two assault-style rifles, two semi-automatic handguns 6,100 rounds of ammunition and 12 pipe bombs in their home or with them when they were killed, officials said.
Investigators are looking into a report that Farook had an argument with a co-worker who denounced the “inherent dangers of Islam” prior to the shooting, an unnamed US government official said.
CNN reported on Friday that one US official said Malik had made the pledge to al-Baghdadi in a posting on Facebook on Wednesday, the day of the attack, under an account that used a different name.
Bowdich said he was aware of the reported Facebook post and that “we’re looking into it.”
The couple’s landlord in the town of Redlands opened their townhouse to media on Friday, leading to a flurry of reporters and camera crews surveying the scene. The landlord later asked media to leave.
The FBI’s search of the home turned up no evidence to suggest they had been working with any foreign militant group, officials said.
PROBE EXTENDS TO PAKISTAN
Pakistani intelligence officials have contacted Malik’s family in her homeland as part of the investigation, a family member said.
“I only found out about this tragedy today when some intelligence officials contacted me to ask me about my links with Tashfeen,” Malik’s uncle, Javed Rabbani, said in an interview. “I had heard in the news that this tragedy had taken place but I could never even imagine that it would be someone from my family. Of course, we are in shock.”
He said his brother, Malik’s father, had become considerably more conservative since moving with his family to Saudi Arabia a quarter century ago.
Tashfeen Malik had not come to the attention of authorities while living in Saudi Arabia, according to a source close to the Saudi government. She had moved back to Pakistan five or six years ago to study pharmacy, Pakistani officials said.
Christian Nwadike, who worked with Farook for five years, told CBS that his co-worker had been different since he returned from Saudi Arabia.
Before going on their rampage on Wednesday, Malik and Farook had destroyed computer hard drives and other electronics.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said Washington had not so far contacted Islamabad regarding Tashfeen Malik.
The Foreign Office said the US authorities had not so far contacted Pakistan regarding the investigation. “If information is shared, Pakistan can hold its own investigation,” a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.
“According to our information, her fiancé moved Tashfeen to America from Saudi Arabia. There are nearly 8 million Pakistanis abroad, so it is unfair to drag Pakistanis in every incident,” it added.
A private TV channel reported late Friday night that Ms Malik had links with Maulana Aziz of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.
The channel also reported that an American diplomat had met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London and delivered a message from President Barack Obama.
Web Monitoring Desk