The Cable

FBI: San Bernardino Massacre Is an Act of Terrorism

The FBI is investigating the San Bernardino attack as terrorism.

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For the first time, federal officials confirmed Friday that they are investigating the massacre in San Bernardino “as an act of terrorism.”

Still, FBI Assistant Director David Bowdich sought to calm the rattled Southern California community that was rocked by the Wednesday rampage that killed 14 and wounded 21. He said the shooters — Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, his Pakistani-born wife — did not appear to be part of a larger threat elsewhere in the United States, and “there’s nothing that we have seen yet that would have triggered us to know.”

In Washington, FBI Director James Comey said Farook and Malik appeared to have been radicalized. The investigation so far indicates “potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations,” Comey told reporters.

But “we have no indication that these killers are part of an organized larger group or form part of a cell,” Comey said. “There is no indication that they are part of a network.”

Agents in California are trying to extract information from two crushed cell phones found near Farook and Malik’s home that Bowdich said could “take us towards their motivation.”

“That evidence is incredibly important,” said Bowdich, head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.  

Bowdich confirmed that Malik had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a Facebook post and then deleted it before the shooting. But asked specifically whether the shootings should be considered the first Islamic State attack in the United States, Bowdich said: “I think you’re taking a leap. We’re not there.”

Earlier Friday, two U.S. officials told Foreign Policy that either Farook or Malik — it’s not yet clear which — may also have had contacts with a small number of people whom authorities initially believed were linked to affiliate extremist organizations, including the Somalia-based al-Shabab, al-Nusra Front in Syria, and, potentially, al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

Those contacts were believed to have happened within the last year or so, and were not considered recent. More importantly, most if not all of those people were cleared some time ago by intelligence agencies and are not believed to pose a threat, said the two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, Bowdich cited a third person linked to the case, who has not been charged but is suspected of providing some of the weapons used in the shooting to the couple. Designating the case as an act of terrorism brings the potential of much harsher penalties at trial.

Authorities found more than 4,500 rounds of ammunition, 12 pipe bomb-type devices, and tools that could be used to make explosives at the couple’s home. Additionally, the shooters were carrying 1,400 rounds of .223 caliber ammunition and more than 200 9 mm rounds as they fled the carnage of a mental health services center in an SUV, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said earlier this week.

Intelligence officials in Washington have told FP it’s believed Farook and Malik were inspired by — if not directly working with — foreign-based extremist groups. On Friday, the Islamic State-linked Amaq News Agency claimed the San Bernardino shootings were, in fact, the work of Islamic State supporters, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online jihadi activity. But it stopped far short of suggesting a direct link between the Syrian-based extremists and the Southern California couple.

Bowdich said there is no evidence that additional attacks are in the works. “Do not let this cause mass hysteria,” he said. San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon added, “We have no known credible threat to the communities that we serve.”

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) commended the FBI for acknowledging the shootings were an act of terrorism. But he demanded that President Barack Obama “acknowledge this act was committed by the same Islamic jihadist movement — including al Qaeda and its estranged sister organization ISIS — that we have battled for 15 years.”

FP reporter Lara Jakes contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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