Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

California massacre was ‘act of terrorism,’ says FBI, as ISIL link probed

US investigators evaluating evidence that shooter Tashfeen Malik may have pledged allegiance to ISIL leader Baghdadi

A gun rampage in California that left 14 people dead was "an act of terrorism," the FBI said Friday as it emerged that one of the shooters may have pledged allegiance to ISIL in an online post. 

Tashfeen Malik, 29, who joined husband Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, in the San Bernardino massacre Wednesday is said to have vowed support for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a Facebook post on the day of the attack. Both suspects were killed in a firefight with police that followed the deadliest mass shooting the United States has experienced in three years.

The couple’s motive to kill was previously speculated to be either a workplace grievance or “terror” related. But in a press conference Friday, Assistant Regional FBI Director David Bowdich said: "We are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism."

He added that there had been "extensive planning" ahead of the attack. Bowdich also confirmed that there was a social media post that investigators were looking into.

Bowdich also said the suspects "attempted to destroy their digital fingerprints," and that authorities located two crushed cell phones from which experts are attempting to extract information.

"We are continuing to go down the path of what was the motivation for this attack because that will tell us a lot," Bowdich said. 

A Facebook official said Malik praised ISIL in a post at 11 a.m. Wednesday, around the very moment the couple stormed a social service center where the husband's co-workers from San Bernardino County's health department had gathered.

However, officials have not publicly said whether Malik is believed to have been in contact with ISIL. And no evidence has yet come to light suggesting that the attack was carried out under any instruction by the armed group. 

Aamaq, a media outlet supportive of ISIL, said Friday that two of ISIL's supporters executed the San Bernardino attack. But there has been no statement to the effect that ISIL ordered the attack or had prior knowledge of it.

It helps them to "be able to attach themselves" to such an attack, Bowdich said of the ISIL statement. 

ISIL claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and injured scores. The group has called on its supporters around the world to strike targets in the West. 

News of the apparent pro-ISIL posting comes as the San Bernardino community attempts to come to grips with the mass shooting, which has again sparked a nationwide conversation about the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons.

San Bernardino shooting suspects Syed Rizwan Farook and wife Tashfeen Malik.
ABC News

Malik and Farook left behind a 6-month-old daughter. Farook's brother-in-law, Farhan Khan, told NBC News he had begun legal proceedings to adopt the girl and was “very upset and angry” at Farook.

“You left your 6-month-old daughter,” Khan said. “In this life some people cannot have kids. God gave you a gift of a daughter. And you left that kid behind … What did you achieve?”

In addition to those killed, 21 people were wounded in the attack, the worst incident of gun violence in the nation since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Farook, a U.S. citizen born in Illinois, was the son of Pakistani immigrants, said Hussam Ayloush, head of the Los Angeles area chapter of the Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Malik was born in Pakistan and moved with her father to Saudi Arabia when she was a toddler. She was living there when she married Farook.

Malik did not come to authorities' attention while living in Saudia Arabia, a source close to the Saudi government told Reuters on Friday.

The source said Malik was not on any Saudi law enforcement or terrorism watchlist, and authorities had no reason to believe she was involved with extremist groups.

Christian Nwadike, who worked with Farook for five years, told CBS that his co-worker had been different since he returned from Saudi Arabia.

“I think he married a terrorist,” Nwadike said.

Investigators are reviewing the couple's computers and cellphones to see if they had browsed websites linked to groups with violent ideologies or had contact with individuals aligned with ISIL, according to officials in Washington familiar with the investigation.

Police said the couple had two assault-style rifles, two semi-automatic handguns and 1,600 rounds of ammunition in their vehicle, with 12 pipe bombs found in their home.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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