Police vehicles surround the black SUV in which the suspects were killed. Reuters photo
Police vehicles surround the black SUV in which the suspects were killed. Reuters photo

Updated at 12:05 p.m. Dec. 4, 2015

The mass shooting at a San Bernardino health facility that killed 14 people, including residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties, was officially being investigated as an “act of terrorism,” the FBI announced Friday.

“We are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism,” David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said at a news conference in San Bernardino.

Bowdich declined to provide specifics, but confirmed he was aware of a Facebook post made by one of the suspects pledging allegiance to the ISIS terrorist group around the time of Wednesday’s shooting. He said “there’s a number of pieces of evidence that have pushed us off the cliff” to proclaim the investigation to be a terrorism probe.

The FBI officially assumed control of the investigation today, but Bowdich said the federal agency will still work in “lockstep” with local authorities. He said there is still a long way to go in the investigation.

“Do not let this cause mass hysteria,” Bowdich said. “We’re not there. … We have a long-term, very complex investigation we have to complete. … I assure the American public we will do everything in our power within the law to get that done.”

Questions have abounded since Wednesday’s shooting about whether it was an act of terrorism or the violent result of a workplace dispute, since one of the shooters — Syed Rizwan Farook, 28 — was an employee of the San Bernardino County Public Health Department, which was targeted in the massacre. In addition to the 14 people who died in the shooting, 21 were wounded.

Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, were killed in a gunbattle with police about seven hours after the initial shooting at the Inland Regional Center, which provides treatment for people with developmental disabilities.

The couple had a 6-month-old daughter.

Farook left the infant with his mother early Wednesday morning, claiming he was taking his wife to a doctor’s visit and didn’t want to bring the baby along, according to Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Los Angeles.

Farook was born in the United States to Pakistani parents and was a five- year employee of the San Bernardino County public health agency, which was holding a holiday party when the shooting erupted.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia last year, spent nine days there, and returned with a new wife, a Pakistani, he met online.

Media reports emerged today that Farook had been in contact with a number of suspected extremists, including a Pakistani named Roshan Zamir Abbassi, an assistant Imam in San Bernardino, where Farook worshipped.

Bowdich did not offer specifics, but said he was aware of “some telephonic connections between … at least one of these individuals and other subjects of our investigation.” He stressed that no other suspects had been arrested.

Abbassi told The Times he barely knew Farook and only exchanged occasional hellos and goodbyes.

Law enforcement sources told various media outlets that Malik pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a statement on Facebook just before she and her husband carried out Wednesday’s rampage. Investigators are reported to be looking into whether the Pakistan-born Malik radicalized her husband.

Bowdich said he was aware of the Facebook posting, and it is part of the continuing investigation.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, the ranking minority member on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Times he had been briefed on the investigation and federal agents have not turned up any evidence that Farook had been “radicalized.”

On Thursday, Bowdich said Malik came to the United States with the U.S- born Farook in July 2014 and had a Pakistani passport. The couple married after arriving in the United States, which enabled her to gain legal permanent resident status last year.

The attack has brought new attention to the previously obscure K1 visa program, which is reserved for the fiances of U.S. citizens. Some advocates for stricter immigration enforcement are calling for investigations into the nation’s visa screening process and for the U.S. to halt its Syrian refugee program.

“New information coming to light regarding Tashfeen Malik’s citizenship reaffirms the fact that proper screening and vetting of those coming into our country, whether with a visa or as a refugee, is not always possible,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for stricter immigration laws, said in remarks quoted by The Times.

On Thursday, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, released a letter demanding that the Obama administration make available the immigration histories of Malik, her husband and their families in advance of a congressional vote on a bill that includes funding for the Syrian refugee and other immigration programs.

The K1 visa permits the foreign-citizen fiance of a U.S. citizen to travel to the U.S. and marry his or her sponsor within 90 days of arrival. It is one of dozens of visas that allow foreigners to enter the United States. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday that K1 applicants, like other visa applicants, undergo an extensive counterterrorism screening that includes checks based on fingerprints and facial recognition software.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.