Scene of San Bernandino shootout

Image courtesy of NBC News

ISIS Praises Couple in
San Bernardino Massacre

| published December 5, 2015 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor

ISIS didn’t exactly take immediate credit for the terror attacks in San Bernardino, California which left 14 dead and dozens wounded—the worst mass murder in three years for the United States. And although law enforcement officials have been circumspect to the point of near-political correctness in not naming ISIS by name, the charade was basically over when it was revealed this week that at least one of the perpetrators had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, and had delivered online homage to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the top ISIS leader in the Middle East.

But after some 48 hours of general silence, ISIS is now praising the efforts of American-born Syed Rizwan Farook and Paksitani-born Tashfeeb Malik for their daring and brazen violent attack on the Inland Regional Center and Office Complex in San Bernardino. Farook and Malik, dressed in black and wearing military tactical gear, stormed into the complex and into a room where scores were attending a meeting and holiday party, then opened fire with automatic weapons.

Later, after a community-wide lockdown, a street-by-street search, and a high speed chase through the area, the couple was killed in a ferocious gun battle with police and law enforcement.

ISIS now takes what it calls “moral credit” for the attacks, calling Farook and Malik supporters and loyal followers of the message of ISIS. But ISIS stops short of taking direct responsibility for the massacre, and U.S. law enforcement officials—especially the FBI—are still guarded about the possibility that the couple had engaged in any form of direct operational correspondence with ISIS. On social media sites maintained by ISIS and on the radio, ISIS says it offers prayers that the couple is accepted by God as martyrs to the cause of radical jihad.

However, initial forensic analysis of the couple’s heavily damaged computers and cell phones, along with investigation into their emails, has turned up plenty of chatter between Farook, Malik, and scores of individuals in the U.S already on the radar of law enforcement. And in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, police are looking closely at anyone who came in contact with the couple over the past three years. Of deep concern to many in the U.S. intelligence community: how did this couple reach the point of launching such a deadly attack on U.S. soil without raising any of the usual red flags among law enforcement and police.

The FBI itself offers conflicted interpretations of the massacre. On the one hand, the agency has been saying since Friday that it is treating the crime as an act of terror.

“Based on the information and the facts as we know them,” explained one top official with the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, “we are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism.”

Conversely, FBI director James Comey has made it clear that the agency sees little connection between the couple responsible for the killings, and says though it will continue to examine every available piece of digital evidence, there appears to be none of the direct command-and-control typical of the most recent high-profile attacks by ISIS, including the Russian passenger plane downed by ISIS-linked militants in Egypt, bombings in Beirut, Lebanon meant to retaliate against Hezbollah, and the attacks in Paris which left 130 dead. Comey has pointed out that Malik only pledged support for ISIS one day before she and her husband carried out their attacks—and then, only through posts on social media.

But both Farook and Malik left a digital trail of bread crumbs which lead to scores of individuals in the U.S. and Europe who are on various watchlists for terror activities. This has prompted concern that U.S. officials may have missed some key chatter or intelligence prior to Wednesday’s attack. FBI forensic experts are examining what remains of the couple’s smashed smart phones, their desktop computer, and other digital items found in their townhouse apartment in Redlands, California.

Friends, family, and work associates are in agreement that no one saw this coming. Farook did not meet the criteria most often associated with Islamist terrorist. Born in the United States, he grew up in middle class comfort, and worked a good job with a decent salary of $70,000. He was well-liked by co-workers, associates and neighbors, and as far as most could tell he was entirely happy with his share of the American dream. He met his wife-to-be online, and traveled to Pakistan to meet her in person. Later, the couple was wed in Mecca near the Grand Mosque.

Malik and Farook may represent what many officials have said publicly and privately they most fear: self-motivated jihadists who remain well below the radar, gathering little attention, and, on the surface at least, showing few—if any—signs that they have been radicalized to the point of taking violent action on behalf of radical Islam.

A few close friends and family members have suggested flatly that it was likely Malik who radicalized Farook, spurring him toward violent action. If so, the couple worked long hours preparing for their attack. Each was armed with fully automatic rifles, semi-automatic handguns, and some 60,000 rounds of ammunition. Inside the rented SUV used in the Wednesday attacks, there were multiple pipe bombs. The FBI also found pipe bombs inside the couple’s tidy apartment, and in a nearby garage. Both the apartment and the storage garage also contained more bomb-making materials, along with additional stockpiles of ammunition.

Though some in law enforcement have characterized the attack plot by Farook and Malik as “amateurish,” others have said flatly that the attacks were carefully planned and carried out with military precision. Terror analysts also suggest that the heavy stockpiles of ammunition, coupled with the tactical gear and vests worn by both assailants, points to a much larger possible plot. The FBI is looking closely at the couple’s communications to determine just how elaborate their terror plot was intended to be, and if other soft targets were included in the planning.

Meanwhile, ISIS praises the couple just as it also offers online hints that it plans new terror plots on other locations. ISIS, which has routinely threatened the United States, Russia and France, is now placing Britain in its crosshairs. Why? Because British lawmakers voted just this past week to expand the U.K military participation in the air campaign to include Syria, in addition to Iraq. British intelligence officials and law enforcement take the newly ramped up threat very seriously: some 750 British citizens have left the U.K. to travel to ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria, and officials estimate that some 250 of those have already returned to England.

Related Thursday Review articles:

San Bernardino Suspects Had Links to ISIS; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; December 4, 2015.

Terror Concerns Still Haunt Europe ; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; November 23, 2015.