Although police investigators are still searching for the motive in the San Bernardino, California, mass shooting by U.S.-born Syed Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, recent details of the shooting have sparked speculations that the husband-and-wife mass shooters may have been part of a sleeper cell network in the U.S.
Even as investigators said they were looking at the latest mass shooting from several angles — including workplace violence — and that they have not ruled out jihadi terrorism as a motive, there is speculation that the San Bernardino mass shooters could be the first intimation of a possibly extensive sleeper cell network in the U.S.
There are different strands of evidence which, according to proponents of the jihadist “sleeper cell” theory, suggest that the pair could have been part of a sleeper cell network disguised, in their case, as an ordinary Arab-American family.
Proponents of the theory insist that police would have to look far beyond the theory that the San Bernardino shooting was an incident of “workplace violence” or “domestic terrorism” to unravel fully the motivation behind the attack and explain how an American family suddenly transformed in a paramilitary team.
Intelligence agencies looking for possible links to terror groups, including ISIS, would have to consider the possibility that the latest shooting incident may have revealed evidence of a possibly extensive sleeper cell network in the country, some analysts say.
“The question is, how many more Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s were raised in the United States? The term is sleeper cells: Has San Bernadino just exposed Muslim sleeper cells that have been born on American soil, educated in American schools?”
Farook — an environmental specialist with the local county health department –- reportedly travelled earlier in the year to Saudi Arabia and returned with a wife he allegedly met online.
According to co-worker Patrick Baccari, after Farook returned from Saudi Arabia, they learned he had married while away. The woman — said to be a pharmacist — reportedly joined Farook shortly after he returned. Soon after, they had a baby, who is now 6-months-old.
Months after he returned with a wife from Saudi Arabia — a hotbed of Sunni Muslim extremism — U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook — described by colleagues at work as a devout Muslim who rarely discussed religion — and his new wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, dressed in tactical gear, burst into a Christmas party organized for local health workers at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, and opened fire on party-goers with assault rifles, killing 14 people and injuring 17.
The Inland Regional Center is a 44-year-old non-profit county organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities settle into a normal life.
Farook had been attending the holiday party when he suddenly “left in anger.” It is uncertain whether he had an altercation with someone. It is also uncertain whether he left on his own accord or was told to leave the party. But according to his colleagues, he had attended the party last year without an incident.
But this year, he left the party suddenly and returned about 10 to 30 minutes later with his fiancé or wife, Tashfeen Malik, and opened fire on the partying crowd, including many disabled individuals.
Despite suggestions that he may have been involved in a dispute at the party, evidence shows the shooting had been preceded by planning, according to police authorities.
San Bernardino police chief Jarrod Burguan said there was evidence of a significant degree of planning in the attack. The two were heavily armed with two automatic handguns and two assault rifles and dressed in “assault-style” clothing.
According to the police chief, during the chase and shootout with the police, they used “military tactics” and even had body-mounted cameras to record the massacre at the Inland Regional Center. The pair reportedly threw pipe bombs at the police from their black SUV during the chase.
“The information we have is that they came prepared to do what they did as if they were on a mission. At minimum, we have a domestic terrorist-type situation here. They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission,” Burguan said.
Evidence that the two had been prepared to carry out an attack underlies speculation that Farook and his wife were likely part of a jihadist sleeper cell. Reports that he may have gotten into a dispute at the party and left in anger have also led some to speculate that the alleged husband-and-wife sleeper cell may have carried out a pre-planned attack prematurely after an incident unexpectedly angered Farook.
Yet, according to co-worker Patrick Baccari, colleagues never noticed any suspicious behavior in Farook. Colleagues described him as reserved and fairly well-liked and noted that he rarely started a conversion.
Baccari said he was sitting at the same table with Farook at the party on Wednesday morning when Farook left suddenly, leaving his coat behind. According to Baccari, who suffered minor wounds from shrapnel during the shooting, he had just entered the bathroom when he heard shooting.
Initially, there were reports that three suspects were involved in the shooting. But police now say only Farook and his partner Malik were involved.
Police had arrested a third suspect seen running from the scene of the shooting, but investigators said they had no evidence he was linked to the shooting.
Farook and Malik were killed in gun battle with police after a chase in a black SUV across suburban San Bernardino. Police traced the two to an apartment in Redlands, California, after a tip-off.
Images that have emerged online show a black SUV — with smashed windows and riddled with bullet holes — at a spot close to the Cornerstone Assembly of God Church, about a mile and a half from the Inland Regional Center where the mass shooting occurred. A photo shows the corpse of the female shooter after she was shot and her body pulled out of the SUV by police.
Farook’s brother-in-law Farhan Khan, who spoke at a media conference held at the offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim, said he was baffled by the incident and that he had no idea why his brother-in-law was involved in a mass shooting.
“I just cannot express how sad I am for what happened today. I am very sad that people lost their lives. I am shocked that something like this could happen,” he said.
[Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP]