What steps did Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik take in the days leading up to their attack in San Bernardino, California?
Investigators are still trying to piece together profiles of the couple who killed 14 people and died in a gunbattle with police last week. They’re also working to pinpoint whether anyone in the United States or abroad helped finance and shape the plot.
Farook took out a bank loan for $28,500 in November, multiple law enforcement officials told CNN on Tuesday.
About half the money was given to Farook’s mother in the last couple of weeks, one official said, and some of it was spent on household items.
Investigators have accounted for all the money and do not believe any of it was provided to the killers by any outside entity backing the plot, according to one of the sources. Because of that, the officials said the loan is not considered of significant investigative value at this stage.
But it’s one more piece of evidence as authorities try to answer a key question: What happened to turn a trained pharmacist and a county health inspector into terrorists?
Sources told CNN that investigators believe Malik was radicalized at least two years ago, well before she came to the United States with Farook on a fiancee visa and before ISIS proclaimed its caliphate.
The final post on a Facebook page believed to be associated with Malik used the word “we” and pledged allegiance to ISIS, an indication, a U.S. official said, that it was a statement on behalf of both killers.
But it’s hard to say exactly what caused the couple’s views to shift, with one U.S. official noting, “It’s not like a switch goes on and you’re radicalized.”
“It’s complicated,” said another U.S. official. “They were looking to be radical and attach themselves to (a group).”
Investigators are working to determine if the pair ever met or took orders from ISIS leaders, or if anyone outside the United States had a hand in or knew of their plans. Officials say it’s possible they did everything, from becoming radicalized to planning and executing the attack, on their own.
Sources: Authorities raid Malik’s former home
Born in Chicago, Farook moved and spent most of his life in California. Police shot and killed him and his wife in a shootout shortly after the San Bernardino massacre on Wednesday.
Malik hadn’t been in the United States for long.
She grew up in central Pakistan and studied pharmacy at a university there. On Monday, Pakistani intelligence authorities raided the home owned by her father in Multan, a city about 220 miles southwest of Lahore. Malik had lived there until spring 2014, around the time she got married and moved to the United States on a fiancee visa.
After finding the residence padlocked and chained shut, authorities got inside and seized religious instruction books, audio CDs with Quran readings and various documents, according to Pakistani intelligence sources.
Malik took but never completed a Quranic course through the Al-Huda International Welfare Foundation. In a statement, that religious study center said she told her instructor in May 2014 that she wouldn’t be able to finish because she was about to get married.
Officials there condemned the attack and said there were no signs Malik had developed an extremist mindset.
“No one could ever think she could do such a heinous thing,” Al-Huda spokeswoman Farrukh Choudhry said.
Father says Farook backed ISIS; lawyer ‘doubtful’
“(Farook’s) family was completely surprised and devastated,” David Chesley, a family lawyer, said Monday about the attack. “… No one had any knowledge. If anybody would have, they definitely would have done something to stop it.”
Farook’s mother, who shared a townhouse in Redlands, California, with the couple and their 6-month-old baby, lived in an isolated part of the house, Chesley said.
Over the weekend, Farook’s father told an Italian newspaper that his son supported ISIS’ ideology of establishing an Islamic caliphate.
“He said he shared the ideology of (ISIS leader Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi to create an Islamic state, and he was fixated on Israel,” the elder Farook told La Stampa newspaper.
Chesley told CNN the father was on medications and didn’t recall making those comments to the Italian newspaper. He described the newspaper report as “doubtful at best.”
Target practice before attack
No one is denying that Farook and his wife opened fire on his co-workers at the Inland Regional Center on Wednesday. One question is who influenced whom, including whether Malik may have pushed her husband to think and act the way he did.
The couple practiced shooting at gun ranges in the Los Angeles area, according to David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
A man believed to be Farook visited the Magnum Shooting Range in Riverside, California, on the Sunday and Monday prior to the attack, according to a source familiar with the matter. On those days, he shot with an AR-15.
“He presented what appeared to be a valid ID, came in and acted … the way normal people act,” said John Galletta, an instructor at the gun range.
Farook was alone on his recent visits to that range, the source said. But the FBI was at the range Monday night asking questions and showing pictures of another man, asking if he’d ever been there.
Surveillance video and logs from the range have been turned over to the agency.
Official: ‘They covered their tracks’
Farook looked into contacting terrorist groups overseas, such as al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front and Al-Shabaab, a senior law enforcement official said.
The source did not specify when or how those attempts were made. At the very least, it appears ISIS and possibly other groups inspired the couple, according to the official.
Days after Malik’s Facebook pledge to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS hailed her and her husband as “supporters” of the terror group.
But that doesn’t mean the pair were members or that someone from the group ordered the massacre, said Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst and former intelligence officer. ISIS has urged sympathizers to carry out attacks on their own, and it typically refers to those who take orders directly from its leaders as “knights” or “soldiers” rather than supporters.
Officials caution there is still a lot to learn and much electronic media to review. The couple’s attempts to destroy their electronics have made it challenging for investigators to use the material.
“They covered their tracks pretty well,” a senior law enforcement official said.