Since news today that San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik is said to have posted a pledge of allegiance to ISIS around the time she and her husband killed 14 people Wednesday, the world’s attention has shifted to the mysterious mother-turned-murderer.
Malik, a photograph of whom was obtained by ABC News, was born in Pakistan but moved to Saudi Arabia 25 years ago when she was about four years old. When she was older, she likely moved back and forth between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, according to a source close to the Saudi Arabian government.
In 2007, she returned to Pakistan to study at Bahuddin Zakri University in Multan and stayed until 2012, according to a Pakistani intelligence official. She was said to be a brilliant student and was not known to have religious or political affiliation while there.
Malik encountered Syed Rizwan Farook, an American of Pakistani origin born in Chicago, on a dating website, an attorney for Farook’s family told reporters today. U.S. officials said Farook could have met Malik or her family in Saudi Arabia during a trip there in the fall of 2013. After another trip in July 2014, Farook returned to the U.S. with Malik in tow. The couple was married the next month.
Malik came to the U.S. on what is known as a “fiancé” visa, which allows an American fiancé to petition for his or her partner’s temporary entry before marriage. Malik received a Green Card this summer, U.S. officials said.
Six months ago, the couple had a baby daughter and named her according to a naming convention more common to Arab families, rather than in the typical Pakistani manner.
How Malik purportedly became radicalized enough to post the alleged pledge of allegiance to ISIS and help kill more than a dozen people in a quiet California town is still a mystery.
The official close to the Saudi Arabian government said that Saudi intelligence officials did not have her on any of their watch lists and she did not appear to have any link to extremists in the region. Neither Malik or Farook were on the FBI’s radar in the U.S., officials said.
FBI Special Agent David Bowdich said today it’s also unclear who in the relationship led the other down the violent path.
“I don’t know the answer, whether she influenced him or not. Being a husband myself, we’re all influenced to an extent. But I don’t know the answer,” he said.
FBI Director James Comey said the Bureau is still investigating whether ISIS inspired the attack, but said there is “no indication” they were part of a larger network. No other suspects are being sought, though Bowdich didn’t rule out the potential for later arrests.
Today lawyers for the Farook family cast doubt on the reports of the ISIS pledge and said that there hasn’t been any real evidence that the couple has any “extremist tendencies.”
“None of the family knew of him as being extreme, aggressive or having any extreme religious views,” one of the attorneys said.
The other noted that Malik was very soft-spoken and conservative — so much that Farook’s brothers never saw her face, due to the full burqa she always wore in public.
As the FBI continues to investigate, Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst, told ABC News she would not be surprised if Malik had been ISIS-inspired. “Terrorism is not gender-specific,” she said.
A recent report by George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security said that of the 71 individuals arrested in the U.S. since March 2014 with purported ties to ISIS, 10 were female.
Bakos, whose work with the CIA concentrated on al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to ISIS, told ABC News she often tracked female extremists for the Agency and noted that AQI infamously used a female suicide bomber in a failed suicide attack in Jordan in 2005 – the woman had hidden a bomb under her dress, but it failed to detonate.
“Men don’t have a monopoly on terrorism or conducting violent acts,” she said. “At this point, in the evolution of terrorism, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a woman take an operational role.”
Correction (Dec. 5): An earlier version of this report said Tashfeen provided a nonexistent address to U.S. officials when she applied for a fiance visa. Local residents say the version of the address provided is not precise, but the family does own a house in the neighborhood. This report was also updated Friday evening with new information from the Farook family attorney about how Malik and Farook met.
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