Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California by husband and wife – Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27 (pictured below) is now known to have been an act of terrorism following initial confusion over their motive. The couple killed 14 people at a Christmas Party at the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino. Farook, a food inspector, had been at the party and was said to be mingling with people when he told one colleague that “he was ready,” before leaving the party – leaving his jacket behind – and retuning shortly after with his wife. They were both dressed in “tactical clothing” and were armed with assault weapons and handguns. It took them less than four minutes to kill 14 people.
A police officer, Mike Madden, who was first on the scene described the scene as “unspeakable.” He continued: “The carnage that we were seeing. The number of people who were injured, and were unfortunately dead. And the pure panic on the faces of those individuals that were still in need and needing to be safe.” Both of the shooters were later shot dead by police during a shootout.
As it took place in the workplace of Farook, confusion came as to whether it was a workplace-related crime. Suspicion, however, quickly followed as both the shooters were Muslim – though comments later from people would not seem to support the early suspicions. As is so often the case with such shooters, people in their lives had no idea that this is the sort of thing they would do. Farook was described as “quiet, friendly and good at his job.”
The director of the Riverside Islamic Center where Farook worshipped, said of him: he “never showed any sign of holding extremist views … he was a very comitted person and he looked like a decent guy, looked very nice, cool-headed person, never gets into arguments with anyone, never gets into any disputes. He speaks with a soft and gentle voice. He is somewhat up to himself a little bit, not that social person.”
The Center’s director also said the sermons there always promote “issues of moderation, a balanced life, issues away from fanaticism.” Farook, who generally attended daily, had been absent from the Center for the previous three weeks.
Farook, howver, was hiding a past life and increasing radicalisation. His childhood was difficult, with a violent and abusive acoholic father. Farook’s mother Rafia had to take out restraining orders against her husband whom she described as a mentally-ill alcoholic who “threatens to kill himself on a daily basis.”
Farook, who was born in Chicago and is an American, had visited Saudi Arabia at least twice and after a visit there in 2014 came back to the States with a fiancee, Tashfeen Malik. She had to go through background checks, biometric recording and a face-to-face interview before being allowed to enter the country on a finacee visa. This meant she had to marry within 90 days or leave the country. Tashfeen and Sayed married in 2014 and had a ceremony at the Riverside Islamic Center, at which 300 people attended.
Tashfeen seems to have been more fundamentality minded than her husband. She did not drive (which is illegal for women in Saudi Arabia where she had been living), she wore a burka and did not mix with male members of Sayed’s family. She was granted a Green Card and permanent residency in the US in July this year after more background checks by the FBI and Homeland Security.
Such checks raised no concerns and neither of the shooters were on the radar of the authorities. We know now that Tashfeen was a supporter of the Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. She posted under a different name 27 messages supporting him and she is said to have been “self-radicalised.” Since the attack Islamic State have praised the couple as “martyrs” and “supporters of Islamic State.” This doesn’t mean that they were acting on their orders. More likely they were inspired by Islamic State and acted as they believed IS would want them to.
Tashfeen had spent her life in Muslim nations – born in Pakistan and living in Saudi Arabia for many years – so her radicalistaion seems more understandable. But according to accounts, Sayed Farook was living the American dream. He was said to have eveything to be happy for in America. He had a good job with a salary of about $71,000 (£47,500) and although a religious man who prayed every day he enjoyed secular interests. Farook may have increasingly been at odds with his American life and his personal religious beliefs.
He even used an Indian dating website, Imilap.com. On his profile, which reflects his two sides of his life to some degree. It reads (verbatim, spelling and grammar, sic): “Enjoy working on vintage and modern cars, read religios books, enjoy eating out sometimes travel and just hang out in back yard doing target pratice with younger sister and friends.” Evidence has now emerged that he was also in touch in Los Angeles with people with “extremist views” and with people oveseas who were “of interest” to authorities in the States.
It seems clear that both Sayed and Tashfeen were becoming radicalised over a period of time and Sayed had certainly managed to hide this from those around him – both at work and at the Islamic Center. I suspect his radicalistion may have intensified in Saudi Arabia after his first visit there in 2013 for the Hajj pilgrimage. He met Tashfeen there. Perhaps she was further down the road of radicalisation and this created the opprtunity for her to get into the United States. We may find out more as the authorities in the US will examine both their histories in detail.
All fourteen victims of the shooting on Wednesday have been named. You can read their stories in the BBC report at bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-35000086. The victims were:
Yvette Velasco, 27
Larry Kauffman, 42
Damian Meins, 58
Sierra Clayborn, 27
Nicholas Thalasinos, 52
Mike Raymond Wetzel, 37
Robert Adams, 40
Benetta BetBadal, 46
Isaac Amanios, 60
Aurora Godoy, 26
Harry Bowman, 46
Tin Nguyen, 31
Juan Espinoza, 58
Shannon Johnson, 45
Not least because of the continuing campaigns for the presidential nominations for next year’s Presidential Election, many politicians in those races have been quick to react to the shootings – especially now we know it was terrorism.
HILLARY CLINTON, who is the forerunner to the Democrat nominee in 2016 said: “We cannot go on with losing 90 people a day to gun violence. We need to take action” Although this is an act of terrorism, the weapons used were purchased legally by an American within America so it has played very much into the endless arguments and debate over gun control. An attempt to attach gun control provisons to a budget bill that would ban people on America’s no-fly list from buying guns has been blocked by Republicans this week. Their excuse? The no-fly list is riddled with errors.
Two of the candidates for the GOP nomination chose to use the shootings as a way to promote fear and to attack President Obama. TED CRUZ, the Texas Senator, said of the attacks, which he described as “horrific”, that they “underscore that we are at a time of war, whether or not the current administration realises it.”
His Republican challenger for 2016, New Jersey Governor CHRIS CHRISTIE, was even more pessimistic: “We need to come to grips with the idea that we are in the midst of the next world war.”
Such language is unhelpful and does nothing to address the issues of access to guns in America and the lack of effective gun control – both of which, if addressed, would save thousands of lives in America. Effective gun control may also prevent future unbalanced and radicalised Americans from obtaining guns with which to carry out such attacks as San Bernardino – whether they are motivated by terrorism or not.
In London on Saturday there was a “terrorist attack” at a Tube station in Leytonstone. Though not on the scale of San Berdardino, it highlights something that Americans should give thought to. It seems that a Mulsim man, radicalised by the air strikes on Syria by the UK and other nations, attacked people on the platform at Leytonstone tube station – shouting “this is for Syria.” One man suffered knife injuries, which are not life threatening. The attacker was Tasered by the police and arrested.
It seems likely that the man was acting on the spur of the moment or with little pre-thought. He was probably angered by last week’s decision by the British Parliament to extend air strikes against Islamic State into Syria. The man, like most people in the UK, doesn’t have easy access to guns. He did have easy access to knives – even if they’re just in his kitchen – and used a knife in his attack. Had he had a gun at home, he could have easily killed many people. The man seems to have attacked one man and then strutted around the injured man threatening others. Those being threatened, however, could simply run away or keep out of reach. Both of these means of avoiding being attacked would not be useful had the attacker been armed with a gun – he could just shoot them from a distance. Some of the bystanders tried to talk him down and protect the injured man, again something they might not have considered if he was carrying a gun.
The attack at Leytonstone has also been trending on Twitter after one Muslim bystander and witness to the attack shouted at the knifeman as police led him away, “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv.” The comment reflects the anger of Muslims who are suffering hostility towards them because of attacks by radicalised and extremist Muslims in the name of Islam.