The woman who carried out the San Bernardino massacre with her husband had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and its leader on Facebook, a U.S. law enforcement official said Friday, providing the strongest evidence to date that the rampage may have been a terrorist attack.
The official said Tashfeen Malik made her posts under an alias and deleted them before she and husband, Syed Farook, killed 14 people Wednesday at a holiday party for his co-workers. The Muslim couple was killed hours later in a fierce gun battle with police.
Malik, 27, was a Pakistani who came to the U.S. in 2014 on a fiancée visa. Farook, a 28-year-old restaurant health inspector for the county, was born in Chicago to Pakistani parents and raised in Southern California.
Another U.S. official said Malik expressed “admiration” for the extremist group’s leader on Facebook under the alias account. But the official said there was no sign that anyone affiliated with the Islamic State communicated back with her, and there was no evidence of any operational instructions being conveyed to her.
The two officials were not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The FBI has been investigating the shooting at a social service center as a potential act of terrorism but had reached no firm conclusions as of Thursday, with authorities cautioning repeatedly that the violence could have stemmed from a workplace grudge or a combination of motives.
Separately, a U.S. intelligence official said on Thursday that Farook had been in contact with known Islamic extremists on social media.
Law enforcement officials have long warned that Americans acting in sympathy with Islamic extremists — though not on direct orders — could launch an attack inside the U.S. The Islamic State in particular has urged sympathizers worldwide to commit violence in their countries.
Farook had no criminal record and was not under scrutiny by local or federal law enforcement before the attack, authorities said. Friends knew him by his quick smile, his devotion to Islam and his talk about restoring cars.
They didn’t know he was busy with his wife building pipe bombs and stockpiling thousands of rounds of ammunition for the commando-style assault Wednesday on a gathering of Farook’s colleagues from San Bernardino County’s health department.
“This was a person who was successful, who had a good job, a good income, a wife and a family. What was he missing in his life?” asked Nizaam Ali, who worshipped with Farook at a mosque in San Bernardino.
Authorities said that the couple sprayed as many as 75 rounds into the room before fleeing and had more than 1,600 rounds left when they were killed. At home, they had 12 pipe bombs, tools to make more explosives and well over 4,500 rounds, police said.
Police Lt. Mike Madden, one of the first officers to reach the room, said the carnage was unspeakable, the scene overwhelming: the smell of gunpowder, the wails of the wounded the blood, fire sprinklers going off and fire alarms blaring. All in a room with a Christmas tree and decorations on every table.
The dead ranged in age from 26 to 60. Among the 21 injured were two police officers hurt during the manhunt, authorities said. Two of the wounded remained in critical condition Thursday. Nearly all the dead and wounded were county employees.
They were remembered Thursday night as several thousand mourners gathered at a ballpark for a candlelight and prayer vigil with leaders of several religions.
The soft-spoken Farook was known to pray every day at San Bernardino’s Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah mosque. That is where Nizaam Ali and his brother Rahemaan Ali met Farook.
The last time Rahemaan Ali saw his friend was three weeks ago, when Farook abruptly stopped coming to pray. Rahemaan Ali said Farook seemed happy and his usual self. Both brothers said they never saw anything to make them think Farook was violent.
They said Farook reported meeting his future wife online.