The massacre in San Bernadino, California is as baffling as it is chilling. I am very familiar with the Redlands and San Bernadino areas since I would spend summers in the area growing up and still have relatives there (including one of the officers responding to this shooting). What is so chilling is the lack of any indication of such an act from a couple that seemed to be living the American dream with a good income and new baby . . . and highly supportive colleagues who they proceeded to slaughter.
For me, the three most chilling facts are the following.
First, Syed Farook, 28, had a good work relationship with these people (he made $51,000 a year as an environmental health specialist for the county) and sat at an office party shortly before killing them. It appears that he may have gotten into an argument with with colleague Nicholas Thalasinos (right), a Messianic Jew who was one of the victims. Thalasinos was known to write caustic comments about Islam on the Internet. (His wife says that Thalasinos often wrote about radical Islam but was friendly with Farook). The argument discussed in the media may have occurred a couple weeks before the party and it is not clear whether the argument had rekindled shortly before the shooting. (One account has Farook telling Thalasinos that he “will never see Israel.”) However, it is clear that these two murderers were planning for terrorism based on the search of their home. A witness said that when Farook disappeared just before the photo session at the party, someone asked, “Where’s Syed?”
Second, both he and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 27, dropped off their 6-month-old girl with his mother Wednesday morning, claiming he had a doctor’s appointment. So these two were willing to abandon their baby in some pursuit of paradise — attaining glory through the slaughter of innocents.
Third, these were not strangers. Not only had these victims worked at Farook’s side, but they actually threw a baby shower for this couple who later slaughtered 14 people (and wounded 17).
Both were devout Muslims who appeared at the party (after Farook left) in dark tactical gear and masks with assault rifles and handguns. From their profiles, these two people would be viewed as well adjusted and well grounded in society. Farook actually called himself a “modern Muslim” on social media to distinguish himself from more traditional Muslims. On his dating profile before he met Malik he said that he was “living life to the fullest” and that he wanted a woman who was interested in “snow boarding, to go out and eat with friends, go camping, working on cars with me.” Indeed, Farook is quoted as telling his colleagues that Americans do not understand Islam and then proceeds to confirm that worst stereotype of Islam by critics.
Farook recently went to Saudi Arabia and may have been radicalized while in the Kingdom (a hotbed for extremism). He traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2013 to meet Malik’s family (who are from Pakistan), and then again in July 2014 to marry her. He would later be in contact with known terrorist figures according to police.
At their home, police say that they found an IED factory and 7,000 rounds of ammunition for assault rifles, 9-mm. handguns and .22-caliber rifles. So whatever the argument may have done, there was clearly planning for an attack if these accounts prove accurate. The argument may have triggered the massacre but the arsenal suggests that a massacre may have been in the works. What is clear is that both of these individuals were powder kegs before any argument with a co-worker.
The greatest question however remains the road to radicalism. We have seen this pattern before of men visiting Saudi Arabia or Syria and coming back radicalized and unstable.