Syed Farook, the slain California shootings suspect, has left investigators baffled as they try to figure out why he and his wife Tashfeen Malik opened fire in a military-style attack inside a building in San Bernardino, California, Wednesday — killing 14 of Farook's co-workers in the local health department, and wounding 21 others.
Contrary to numerous media reports, an investigation into what authorities believed to be Farook's links to Islamic extremism have so far gone nowhere, and authorities say they have seen no hard evidence that the gunman — who friends and neighbors say appeared to live an uneventful, quiet life — had become "radicalized" into violent jihadi terrorism.
"It's very odd," said a law enforcement official speaking to the Washington Post. "It appears they were a happy couple of the Muslim faith."
The official's name was withheld by the Post, because he was not in a position where he was officially permitted to speak about the investigation. But he added that the alleged terror contacts that had been attributed to Farook appeared to be insignificant, made mostly through easily accessible social media networks and, in some cases, were years old.
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"These were not substantial contacts," the official said. "Those contacts would not have put him on our radar. We certainly saw that contact but it was insignificant. You're allowed to like someone's Facebook page."
The law enforcement official also told the newspaper that investigators had searched for evidence that Farook and Malik had become radicalized, such as whether they frequently visited extremist online chat rooms or other web portals, or if they owned or read jihadi propaganda publications such as the Al-Qaeda-produced Inspire Magazine and similar literature.
But so far, no such evidence that the couple held extremist viewpoints has turned up. Earlier media reports had stated that FBI investigators did, in fact, believe that Farook had been radicalized at some point, though when and how was not specified.
While the FBI has said that its investigation into Farook and Malik is still in its early stages, and actual evidence of terror contacts may still be uncovered, the lack of clear connections to radical violent jihadism has left investigators and officials frustrated as they attempt to understand what motivated the young couple, parents of a six-month-old baby, to carry out the worst mass shooting in the United States since the Sandy Hook schoolhouse massacre in which a lone gunman killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults on December 14, 2012.
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California Congressmember Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the shooting attack appeared too well-thought-out to have been a spontaneous act of workplace revenge violence. But it could have been the result of a long-smoldering grievance between Farook and the health department that employed him, Schiff speculated.
Assistant FBI Los Angeles Field Office Director David Bowdich said that the amount of planning that went into the shootings could possibly indicate that Farook and Malik had a larger-scale attack planned on a different target, but that "there was something that triggered him to do this immediately."
But Bowdich added that "we just don't know," and that the FBI was therefore not prepared to label the Wednesday massacre as an act of terrorism at this point.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times Thursday, authorities uncovered telephone contacts between Farook and Malik and three men who raised suspicions among the investigators.
But one of those men, Roshan Zamir Abbassi, later posted an angry message on his own Facebook page, the Times reported, flatly denying any connection to the shootings, and saying that his contact with Farook had no suspicious implications.
"Held at gunpoint when LAPD, secret service, and FBI visited my house just a few hours ago," Abbassi wrote, as quoted in the newspaper. "My crime, the shooter used to come to our local masjid … We Muslims condemn all acts of terror.... We have nothing to hide and I repeat we condemn all acts of terror."
"Masjid" is simply another term for "mosque."
Media reports cited by the Reuters news agency have claimed that law enforcement authorities "were examining Farook's contacts with an undisclosed number of people whose suspected ties to radical ideology have become known to the FBI."
But whether those alleged contacts were the same three cited in the Los Angeles Times report, including Roshan Zamir Abbassi, remains unclear.
Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik can no longer help the California shootings investigators get to the bottom of what motivated them, because they were both killed in a wild shootout with police on Wednesday afternoon. The video above contains a CNN report on that gun battle.
[Photo by California Department of Motor Vehicles via AP]