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Tracing background of Syed Rizwan Farook, Tashfeen Malik


The number of wounded in Wednesday's massacre rose to 21 on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, as police said the married couple who carried out the attack had 12 pipe bombs in their house - along with hundreds of tools to make such devices and thousands of rounds of ammunition. (Credit: Newsday / Alex Horvath)

SAN BERNARDINO, CALIF. - Wednesday’s shooting massacre by a married couple later killed in a police shootout was likely a terrorist act and possibly the first salvo in what investigators suspect was a string of planned attacks by the pair, according to several sources.

Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27 — are suspected of opening fire at a holiday gathering at the Inland Regional Center, killing 14 and wounding 21, before the two were shot and killed in a fierce firefight with police in the nearby city of Redlands.

The discovery of the large cache of weaponry in the couple’s home after their deaths gave new insight into how, officials said, the couple pulled off the worst mass shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.

But several crucial questions remain unanswered about the pair’s motives, backgrounds and possible collaborators.

And in mostly working-class San Bernardino — about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles — the families of those still unaccounted for a day after the shooting, spent Thursday grieving over the stunning loss of loved ones after authorities released the names of the dead.

While authorities have yet to pin a motive to the attack, sources pointed to the numerous explosives and weaponry, including thousands of rounds of ammunition found at the couple’s home and in the SUV where they died during the shootout as suggestions of terrorist motivations.

A high-ranking New York police official said Wednesday’s attack will likely turn out to be terrorism — but the question remains whether the attack was directed from outside the country or was a homegrown act by Farook and Malik.

The bombs found at the center were unsophisticated and crude, similar to explosive devices used in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, according to the sources.

Farook also had occasional contact with people who were under loose FBI scrutiny as being interested in jihad, the sources said — but they also cautioned that the investigation into the couple’s motives was ongoing.

San Bernardino city Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Thursday the gathering was a Christmas luncheon after a morning of training for employees of the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.

Officials said Farook worked as a health inspector for San Bernardino County and attended the gathering before leaving for unknown reasons. He later returned with his wife. Both wore masks and what police described as “dark tactical gear” as they stormed the building toting assault weapons, officials said.

“Based upon what we have seen and based upon how they were equipped, there had to be some degree of planning that went into this,” Burguan said. “I don’t think they just ran home, put on these types of tactical clothes, grabbed guns and came back on a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

A dozen of the dead and 18 of the wounded were county employees, Burguan said. About 75 to 80 people were in the room at the time of the attack, he said.

Lt. Mike Madden, one of the first responders to the center, recalled a scene that was hard for even a seasoned cop to believe until screams of pain and dead bodies confirmed it.

“The situation was surreal,” Madden said at news conference Thursday night.

Madden said the scene before him was like nothing he’d ever witnessed in his 24 years as a cop. The room was quiet when he first entered. He smelled gun smoke lingering in the air. Then came shrieks of pain and panic, Madden said. A bullet had pierced a fire sprinkler, showering water on the floor of the room, and the dead and wounded there, only adding to the unreal scene.

“It was unspeakable, the carnage we were seeing,” Madden said.

Other San Bernardino police said Thursday that tips about Farook’s involvement came from someone at the party who recognized him and alerted investigators. Police traced Farook’s name to an SUV with Utah plates that he had rented in the San Bernardino area days earlier, Burguan said Thursday.

Police spotted the SUV and followed it, Burguan said before officers and the couple engaged in a violent volley of gunfire on a Redlands street. The SUV stopped on its own and “rounds came out of the back of the car from the female that was in the back,” Burguan said.

“And then the male driver got out and fired at the officers from the street as well,” he said. Officers ducked and crouched behind police vehicles as they returned fire, killing both, Burguan said.

The search of the couple’s rented house in Redlands found 12 devices similar to pipe bombs, equipment for bomb-making, 2,000 rounds for a 9 mm pistol, 2,500 rounds for a .223 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds for a .22 long rife. An unexploded pipe bomb was also found at the party scene, he said.

The chief said he was not aware of any law that restricted the amount of ammunition a person could have, and the two assault rifles and two semi-automatic pistols recovered by police were purchased legally.

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said his department has been receiving briefings from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and that the city’s police department was on a heightened sense of awareness after the attack — the worst mass shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.

“The thing we are all interested [in] here is what was the actual motive, which will help us significantly,” Bratton said “Was this an act of inspired terrorism, or related to the workplace situation we have heard so much about? Critical for us in the NYPD: What exactly was the motivation of these two young people?”

President Barack Obama said in a live broadcast from the White House Thursday that the workplace relationship between Farook and the victims made the investigation “complicated.”

“There may be mixed motives involved in this,” the president said. He said, however, that it was “possible this was terror-related.”

Records show Farook was born in Illinois and has lived in Southern California for at least the last nine years. He has no criminal record, Burguan said.

He recently traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned with Malik, whom he met online, officials said.

The FBI said she was in the United States legally on a K-1 visa, which is granted to people planning to marry in the United States.

The couple had a 6-month-old baby they had dropped off with the child’s grandmother hours before the shooting, telling her they had a doctor’s appointment, according to several published reports.

In an interview with Newsday Thursday, Burguan said investigators are piecing together the couple’s stockpiling of ammunitions, weapons and explosives in a painstaking effort to bring a timeline into view of their planning.

Beyond confirming that two of the guns had been legally purchased several years ago, Burguan said, “that’s the stuff that starts to get really complex.”

“It’s hard to build that history,” he said. “We just don’t know now.”

When asked about the level of involvement of Farook’s wife — this mass shooting is unique for the involvement of a woman — Burguan made clear that she was not a mere observer.

“She was engaged in the gunbattle with our police officers,” Burguan said of the confrontation that led to the suspects’ deaths. “And there were two shooters at the scene. Yes, she fired weapons.”

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