San Bernardino Shooters Were Radicalized Before Meeting, FBI Chief Says

Dec 10, 2015
Originally published on December 10, 2015 11:27 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The husband and wife shooters who killed 14 people and wounded 21 others last week in San Bernardino, Calif., were radical extremists even before they began courting one another. That is according to FBI director James Comey, who spoke yesterday before a Senate panel.

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JAMES COMEY: They were talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and then married and lived together in the United States.

GREENE: Now, officials are also investigating whether one of the shooters had previously plotted a different attack on U.S. soil. Let's talk about all this with NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston, who's on the line. Dina, good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Let's start with that last part, if we can - a possible earlier plot involving one of the San Bernardino killers. What exactly happened?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the FBI's been talking with a man named Enrique Marquez. He and Syed Farook, one of the attackers killed in the shootout with police last week, they used to be neighbors. And officials tell NPR that Marquez allegedly told investigators that he and Farook had planned a terrorist attack in the U.S. back in 2012, but they subsequently abandoned it. Now, authorities declined to provide much information about this. And I think that's partly because investigators are still trying to assess Marquez's credibility. He first came to the FBI's attention when they looked at the registration of the AR-15 assault-style rifles that were used in the attack last week. And those guns belonged to Marquez. When law enforcement went looking for him to ask about that, they found him in a mental health facility. He'd checked himself in shortly after the shooting. So investigators aren't sure if Marquez is telling the truth.

GREENE: So they have to figure out whether he's credible. But one thing he told them, it sounds like, is that he abandoned that earlier attack with Syed Farook. Why would they have abandoned the attack?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, he said he and Farook had decided against launching those attacks in 2012 because there had been some local terrorism arrests. Now, we know there actually were some terrorism arrests in the Los Angeles area in November of 2012. That case involved four men who planned to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban and al-Qaida. But we don't know if those arrests were the ones Marquez was talking about. He allegedly told the FBI that those arrests spooked them, so they decided not to launch the attack.

GREENE: So they might have gotten a little jumpy and decided to abandon it. Well, let me ask you this - it seems like an important point here. We have the director of the FBI saying that this couple who carried out the San Bernardino terror were radicalized before they met in 2013. This possible other attack, 2012 - all this is happening before the Islamic State was even around, right?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. I mean, it suggests that ISIS's role in this attack, if there is one, may have been more incidental. A lot of this happened before ISIS began trying to inspire its followers to attack the West. And ISIS actually established itself as a caliphate in 2014. Now, we understand from investigators that Tashfeen Malik, the woman shooter, swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS just before the attack. But investigators are trying to determine if maybe that was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. And that may be why the FBI's been so tentative about attributing this particular attack to ISIS.

GREENE: OK, that's NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston with the latest developments in the investigation in the San Bernardino massacre last week. Dina, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.