At about 11AM Wednesday, two people armed with assault rifles opened fire on an office holiday party in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding 21. The attackers died in a shootout with police hours later.
Police have identified the suspects as married couple Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27. Farook is an American citizen, born to Pakistani parents, who worked as an environmental inspector and had attended the office party at the Inland Regional Center with colleagues. Police said he apparently left the party in a huff of anger and returned with Malik— both wearing tactical vests that could hold weapons and ammunition — to unleash the attack.
Almost immediately after the assailants were shot dead in a stand-off with law enforcement, questions turned to the suspects' motivations. Officials have repeatedly stressed that the investigation is still under way and they have not yet determined a motive.
At Thursday morning's press conference, David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI's Los Angeles office, told reporters, "It would be irresponsible and premature for me to call this terrorism." Nevertheless, he did add, "This is not your average investigation."
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said in a press conference Wednesday that they were not ruling out anything, including terrorism, as a motive.
"These people came prepared to do what they did as if they were on a mission," Burguan said. "They were armed with long guns, not with handguns."
The New York Times reported that law enforcement sources, speaking anonymously, said the FBI had evidence that Farook had been in touch with Islamist extremists both in the US and overseas, at least one of whom had been under investigation by federal authorities in the US.
President Barack Obama also cautioned against jumping to any conclusions about motives while the investigation was still ongoing.
"At this stage, we do not yet know why this terrible event occurred," Obama said on Thursday, in his response to the country's latest mass shooting. "We do know that the two individuals who were killed were equipped with weapons and appeared to have access to additional weaponry at their home." The president also reiterated his call for stricter gun control in the wake of these tragedies.
Law enforcement agents also discovered what appeared to be explosive devices at several locations near the center, which they later detonated. As of Thursday morning, investigators were still combing through three locations in the San Bernardino area, federal agents told reporters today, including a nearby house, in Redlands, where the suspects are believed to have lived.
Burguan, San Bernardino's police chief, said today that investigators found a remote-controlled improvised explosive device, a dozen pipe bombs, thousands more rounds of ammunition, and hundreds of tools that could have been used to construct pipe bombs and IEDs inside the Redlands house. Investigators added that it's unclear if the suspects were still living there at the time of the shooting.
Although the picture of the alleged attackers is far from complete, small details are beginning to emerge about their identities. People close to Farook said they were shocked to hear he was named a suspect.
"I have no idea why he would do something like this," Farhan Khan, Farook's brother-in-law, said at a news conference last night. "I cannot express how sad I am today. I am in shock myself."
Prior to yesterday's rampage, Farook had not been the subject of any federal investigation, the FBI told the Washington Post. His coworkers told the Los Angeles Times that he was a devout Muslim who was polite and well-liked in his community.
Less is known about Farook's wife, Tashfeen Malik, who was born in Pakistan and had spent time in Saudi Arabia before coming to the United States, according to the Post. Farook's colleagues also told the LA Times they were aware he had recently returned from Saudi Arabia with a bride he had met online. According to police, they had entered the US in July of 2014, but investigators declined to say for how long and where they had been traveling. The couple also had a six-month-old baby, whom they left with Farook's mother Wednesday morning after telling her they were going to run an errand, a relative told the New York Times.
A page from the dating website IMilap.com shows a user with the name farooksyed49 matching much of the suspect's biographical details. The profile describes himself as a young, devout Muslim who is an environmental inspector and lives in Riverside, which is about 11 miles from San Bernardino. The user said he "enjoy[s] working on vintage and modern cars, read[s] religious books, enjoy[s] eating out, sometimes travel[s] and just hang out in back yard doing target practice with younger sister and friends."
Federal investigators have now turned toward the source of the assailants' weapons. Burguan said all four guns used in the attack were bought legally and appeared to have been registered.
As of Thursday morning, there was "no credible information to indicate there is any immediate threat in the vicinity," said Burguan.