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California mass killers had bullets, bombs to slaughter hundreds

AP/AFP-JIJI

The husband-and-wife attackers who killed 14 people at a holiday party had enough bullets and bombs to slaughter hundreds more, investigators said Thursday as they worked to figure out whether the rampage was terrorism, a workplace grudge or some combination.

The couple left behind three rigged-together pipe bombs with a remote-control detonating device that apparently malfunctioned, and they had more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition left when police shot and killed them in their rented SUV after an hours-long manhunt, police said.

At a family home, authorities also found 12 pipe bombs, tools for making more, and over 3,000 additional rounds of ammunition, Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said in a grim morning-after inventory that suggested Wednesday’s bloodbath could have been far worse.

“We don’t know if this was workplace rage or something larger or both,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in Washington, echoing President Barack Obama. “At this point in time we don’t know the motivation.”

Wearing black tactical gear and wielding assault rifles, Syed Rizwan Farook, a 28-year-old county restaurant inspector, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, sprayed as many as 75 rounds into a room at a social service center for the disabled, where Farook’s co-workers had gathered for a holiday banquet. Farook had attended the event but slipped out at some point, then returned in battle dress.

Four hours later and 3 kilometers away, the couple died in a furious gunbattle. They fired 76 rounds, while 23 law officers unleashed about 380, the police chief said.

Twenty-one people were injured before the day was out in this Southern California city of 214,000, including two police officers, authorities said. Two of the wounded remained in critical condition.

It was the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since the Newtown, Connecticut, school tragedy three years ago that left 26 children and adults dead.

Authorities said the attack was carefully planned.

“There was obviously a mission here. We know that. We do not know why. We don’t know if this was the intended target or if there was something that triggered him to do this immediately,” David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said as the bureau took over the investigation.

Farook has no known criminal record, Burguan said. He was born in Chicago to a Pakistani family, was raised in Southern California and worked at San Bernardino County’s Department of Public Health for five years, according to authorities and acquaintances. The Saudi Embassy said he traveled to Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2014 for nine days.

As for Malik, she came to the U.S. in July 2014 on a Pakistani passport and a fiancée visa, authorities said. To get the visa, immigrants submit to an interview and biometric and background checks — screening intended to identify anyone who might pose a threat.

Adam Lankford, a criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama, said his review of mass public shootings in the U.S. indicates this is the first one in recent history to involve a male-female team.

Federal authorities said that Farook legally bought two handguns used in the massacre and that their two assault rifles were legally bought by someone else. They did not say how the rifles got into the attackers’ hands.

The stockpile of pipe bombs, tools and ammunition was found at a home in Redlands, about 11 kilometers from the massacre at the Inland Regional Center. Investigators said that Farook and his wife were listed on the rental agreement but that it wasn’t yet clear whether they lived there.

Before they went on the rampage, couple dropped off their 6-month-old daughter with relatives Wednesday morning, saying they had a doctor’s appointment, according to Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Co-worker Patrick Baccari said he was sitting at the same banquet table as Farook before Farook suddenly disappeared, leaving his coat on his chair. Baccari said that when the shooting started, he took refuge in a bathroom and suffered minor wounds from shrapnel slicing through the wall.

The shooting lasted about five minutes, he said, and when he looked in the mirror he realized he was bleeding.

“If I hadn’t been in the bathroom, I’d probably be laying dead on the floor,” he said.

As for any workplace conflicts, Baccari said that up until then Farook showed no signs of unusual behavior and was a reserved young man.

Two weeks ago, Farook and one of the co-workers he killed, 52-year-old Nicholas Thalasinos, had a heated conversation about Islam, according to Kuuleme Stephens, a friend of the victim’s.

Stephens said she happened to call Thalasinos while he was at work and having a discussion with Farook. She said Thalasino told her that Farook “doesn’t agree that Islam is not a peaceful religion.”

Among the wounded was Julie Paez, who was at the holiday party. Paez, who tests water for the health department, was shot at least twice, and her pelvis was shattered by a bullet, according to her son, Nick Paez.

She managed to send her family a message through a group chat app to say she had been shot, and she included a selfie of just her face.

“It was a picture of her with a half-smile,” her son said. “She just wanted to send us something so we would know what was happening.”

Farook attended daily services and celebrated his wedding reception at the Islamic Center of Riverside, Center Director Mustafa Kuko said on Thursday.

Farook attended morning and evening services from 2012 to 2014, Kuko said. In 2013, Farook asked for Kuko’s blessing to marry a Pakistani woman living in Saudi Arabia.

Kuko said he felt betrayed by Farook’s alleged actions, which contradict the teachings of Islam.

The imam at a mosque frequented by Farook said Thursday there was no indication he had been radicalized, and had not been seen for about three weeks.

Others described Farook as a committed Muslim who was quiet and respectful of others.

Their couple’s motive remains unclear, but Mahmood Nadvi, of the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah mosque in San Bernardino, said he did not believe they were Islamic extremists.

“We never saw a sign of radicalization,” Nadvi, 39, told AFP a day after the bloodshed.

“If someone becomes nuts, you don’t represent the religion anymore.”

Nizaam Ali, 23, a student interviewed at the mosque, said Farook came frequently to the mosque — but had not been seen for the last three weeks.

“He used to come two to three times a week, usually at 1:00 p.m., during his lunch break,” Ali told AFP. “We prayed with him.”

He said Farook told fellow worshippers that he had sealed his union with Pakistan-born Malik “online” and the couple married in Saudi Arabia in July 2014.

“I saw her a couple of times, but never met her,” he said of Malik. “She was covered from head to toe in black.”

Gasser Shehata, 42, said he was convinced Farook’s actions were linked to a work-related dispute — which is one line of police inquiry — rather than his religious beliefs.

“You can’t believe he did that for the sake of Islam,” he said. “He was calm, shy, reserved. I’ve never seen him disrespect someone.”

Muslim officials in San Bernardino said a prayer vigil would be held at the local mosque later Thursday to honor the victims.

“We condemn this senseless and horrific act of violence in the strongest possible terms,” said Ahsan Khan, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community chapter in Los Angeles.

“Our community has been in San Bernardino County for nearly three decades and yet have never seen such depravity.”

Farook grew up in a family riven by violence, with his mother accusing his father of being an abusive alcoholic, according to divorce records.

Syed Farook’s mother, Rafia Sultana Farook, in 2006 alleged that her husband, also named Syed, attacked her while her children were present, dropped a TV on her and pushed her toward a car, according to the records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

She filed a no-contact, stay-away domestic violence protection petition on July 3, 2006. Rafia Farook said she was forced to move out of her home with three of her children because her husband continually harassed her “verbally and physically and refused to leave the home,” according to the divorce records.

AP couldn’t immediately reach the father for comment. No one answered at Farook’s brother’s home, where a neighbor said the father lived.

The details about the younger Farook’s childhood emerged as authorities tried to determine what could have motivated him and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to, as police say, open fire at the center in San Bernardino, killing 14 people and injuring more than a dozen others.

Authorities would not rule out a possible link to terrorism. San Bernardino Police Chief Burguan said the couple had more than 1,600 bullets with them when they were killed, and that the shooters had more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition at their home, 12 pipe bombs and tools that could be used to make improvised explosive devices.

Syed Farook was born in Chicago in 1987 to parents born in Pakistan. He was raised in California.

Farook later took a job as an environmental inspector at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, a job that took him Wednesday to the Inland Regional Center, where the department was holding a holiday banquet when the attack occurred, according to Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Farook, a U.S. citizen, had traveled to Saudi Arabia and returned to the U.S. in July 2014 — with Malik and with a beard. Officials said the wife had arrived on a K-1 visa — a fiancee visa — and with a Pakistani passport. The couple had a 6-month-old daughter, who they left with relatives before heading to the center.

Dane Adams said Syed Farook’s father, who moved in with his son, Syed’s brother, two doors down a few months ago, was the talkative one, often visiting as Adams worked on classic cars in the garage, telling him about his family.

He said he often saw the man walking with his grandchild, who Adams guessed was about a year old. “That baby’s got the cutest smile in the world,” he said.

The military-style rifles used in the deadly California shootings were legally purchased, the U.S. government said Thursday.

The two rifles were not specifically listed among the models outlawed under California’s famously tough gun laws, and as long as each included a minor design change affecting how bullets are loaded into the weapon they would have been legal.

California limited access to high-powered, military-style rifles in 1989 and lawmakers passed further restrictions in 2000, when they banned specific types of AR-15 and AK-47 style rifles. Included in the ban were rifles that can use detachable ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and have other characteristics. Ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets are also outlawed.

But rifles that aren’t specifically listed in the ban are considered legal, as long as a tool is required to release the ammunition magazine. The change is intended to effectively limit the number of rounds the gun can fire because it presumably takes extra time to reload.

California’s law prompted the gun industry to start marketing military-style rifles with so-called bullet buttons, a sort of sleeve that blocks quick access to the release button. Users can use the tip of a spare bullet or a tool to release the gun’s magazine, although a small magnet can be attached to the button so that users can quickly press it using just their finger.

The executive director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, Josh Sugarmann, said the gun industry was “cynically exploiting an inadvertent limitation” of California’s assault weapons ban.

Law enforcement officials recovered a Smith and Wesson M&P-15 and an A15 made by Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services Panther Arms and two handguns after Wednesday’s mass shooting. Both rifles are sold with bullet buttons.

The FBI’s Bowdich said Thursday that Syed Rizwan Farook legally bought the handguns. He said the rifles were bought by someone else though he did not provide any other details. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said earlier that all four guns were legally purchased.

The senior vice president and general counsel for the National Sport Shooting Foundation, Larry Keane, said the bullet button requirement does little to inhibit would-be criminals and doesn’t “impact anyone but law-abiding citizens.” The requirement, he said, frustrates sport shooters who often fire hundreds of rounds in target practice.

Police also found 2,500 rounds of rifle ammunition in a home shared by Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik. An additional 1,400 rifle rounds were found inside a car the pair used to evade police Wednesday, hours after the deadly shooting in San Bernardino. Police also recovered more than 2,000 handgun bullets. All told, the pair was equipped with roughly $2,000 worth of ammunition.

There are no legal limits on the volume of ammunition someone can buy. Keane said it is not uncommon for target shooters to buy larger volumes of ammunition at a time since they can routinely shoot hundreds of rounds during a weekend.