By Tim Reid
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Authorities on Thursday were working to determine why a man and a woman opened fire at a holiday party of his co-workers in Southern California, killing 14 people and wounding 17 in an attack that appeared to have been planned.
Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, who had a 6-month-old daughter together, were killed in a shootout with police after Wednesday’s bloodshed at the Inland Regional Center in the city of San Bernardino, a social services agency where Farook worked as an inspector.
Meredith Davis, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said the two rifles and two handguns recovered at the scene of the shootout were bought legally in the United States.
Two of the guns were purchased by someone “associated with this investigation,” while the buyer of the other two was not linked to the investigation, she said.
The long guns were .223-caliber and their ammunition can go through protective vests and walls, Davis said.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said the motive remained unclear in the most recent U.S. mass shooting. He and David Bowdich, an assistant regional FBI director, both said it had not been determined if terrorism was a motive.
Farook was U.S. born while Malik’s nationality was yet to be determined. A spokesman for the Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said both were Muslims.
Farook’s family and co-workers also struggled to make sense of the shooting, the deadliest in the United States in three years. His brother-in-law said he had “absolutely no idea” why Farook would stage a massacre.
Burguan said Farook was a county public health employee who attended the party at the Inland Regional Center and, at some point, stormed out.
He and Malik later returned, both dressed in assault-style clothing, and placed several bombs at the scene, which police detonated.
‘Degree of planning’
Burguan said the manner in which the couple was equipped indicated there was “some degree of planning” behind the attack.
There have been more than 350 shootings this year, in which four or more people were wounded or killed in the United States, according to the crowd-sourced website shootingtracker.com, which keeps a running tally of U.S. gun violence.
The San Bernardino rampage was the deadliest U.S. gun incident since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, in which 27 people, including the gunman, were killed.
“I don’t think any community is immune,” San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis told CBS. “Certainly, we don’t anticipate that kind of thing happening here. It was a shock.”
Wednesday’s carnage amplified concerns about gun violence and security after deadly assaults at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last week and the attacks in Paris three weeks ago by Islamic State militants that killed 130 people.
President Barack Obama called for gun law reform to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings.
“We have a no-fly list where people can’t get on planes but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them,” he said in an interview with CBS News on Thursday.
In addition to the FBI and ATF, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the U.S. Marshals Service would assist state and local authorities to investigate the attack.
‘Why would he do that?’
The attack in San Bernardino, a largely working-class city 60 miles east of Los Angeles, appeared to differ from other recent U.S. killing sprees in several ways, including the involvement of two people rather than a lone perpetrator.
At a news conference called by the Los Angeles area CAIR chapter, the brother-in-law of Farook, Farhan Khan, said he was bewildered by the news.
“Why would he do that? Why would he do something like this? I have absolutely no idea. I am in shock myself,” Khan said in Anaheim, California, south of Los Angeles.
Co-workers told the Los Angeles Times they were surprised to hear Farook’s name linked to the shootings since he was quiet and polite and did not appear to bear grudges. They told the newspaper he had traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned with his new wife, whom he had met online.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR in the Los Angeles area, appealed to the public not to jump to conclusions about the suspects’ motives.
“Is it work? Is it rage-related? Is it mental illness? Is it extreme ideology?” he said. “We just don’t know.”
In view of the rise of Islamic State militants and some disgruntlement among politicians and the public in the United States over plans to accept Syrian war refugees and migrants, Ayloush said he was concerned about a backlash against the general Muslim community.
“We’re living in a very difficult time,” he said in a CNN interview. “There’s a lot of Islamophobia out there, a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, fueled by pundits here and there trying to blame a whole community for the acts of a few.”
The manhunt initially led police to a home in the neighboring town of Redlands. Police then pursued a vehicle that was seen leaving that address back to San Bernardino, where the shootout occurred.
Ayloush told Reuters the couple left their baby with Farook’s mother at that Redlands home early Wednesday and told her they were going to a doctor’s appointment for Malik, whom he described as Farook’s wife of two years.
Five patients remained at Loma Linda University Medical Center, with two in critical but stable condition, and three in fair condition, hospital spokeswoman Briana Pastorino said on Thursday. The condition of patients taken to other medical facilities was not immediately known.