A Brief History
On December 2, 2015, an American married couple of Pakistani descent (one a citizen, the other a legal resident) named Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik ruined the Christmas party being held by employees of the Inland Regional Center (a not-for-profit organization that assists 33,000 people with developmental disabilities as well as the families of those persons) in San Bernardino, California by crashing the party with guns blazing, killing 14 people and wounding another 22 victims. The couple were killed later in a shootout with police, in which 2 officers were wounded. The couple were considered by government authorities as “home grown terrorists,” and their deadly attack was the worst terrorist attack in the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Syed, the husband, worked for the health department and was born in Chicago, the son of Pakistani immigrants. Tashfeen was born in Pakistan, but had lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia before emigrating to the US. Syed was a graduate of the California State University at San Bernardino and was a “devout” Muslim, going to Mecca for his Hajj and traveling to Saudi Arabia several times. Tashfeen was a graduate of Bahauddin Zakariya University in Pakistan, having studied pharmacology. Tashfeen also studied Islamic religious subjects while in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Her “Islamic” education included anti-Western and anti-American points of view. She came to the US specifically to marry Syed, a romance founded on an internet relationship.
After marrying Syed in 2014, Tashfeen gave birth to a baby girl 6 months prior to the mass shooting incident. The couple used the birth of the baby as “proof” that their marriage was legitimate in order for Tashfeen to be issued a “Green Card” as a legal resident of the US. Tashfeen took to wearing the traditional niqab and burqa as a sign of her devotion to her religion. After the shootings, it was reported she had been radicalized during both her Islamic education in Pakistan and in Saudi Arabia. Pakistani clerics denied that claim, as did Saudi government officials. American FBI investigation revealed the couple had been radicalized before they “met” on the internet, and had shared communication showing their radicalism for Jihad (holy war).
Syed obtained 2 semi-automatic rifles in .223 caliber as well as 2 pistols in 9mm caliber to be used in the planned attack. The couple had obtained the guns with the assistance of a neighbor, Enrique Marquez Jr., another person who was apparently on the anti-American bandwagon. The couple and Marquez also constructed explosive devices and attempted to make one of the AR-15 type rifles capable of fully automatic fire. The couple failed at achieving a fully automatic (machine gun) rifle but did illegally modify the rifles to be able to use detachable high capacity ammunition magazines in violation of California law. The pair brought over 2600 rounds of .223 ammunition and over 480 rounds of 9mm pistol ammunition on their deadly raid, as well as a bomb. (The bomb later failed to explode at the IRC.)
Syed was an attendee of the Christmas party and arrived at 8:30 pm, but left early at 10:30, leaving his home-made bomb in his backpack on a table. He returned with Tashfeen at about 10:59 pm and the couple began shooting people. Wearing ski masks and “tactical” gear, the murderous couple fired away, letting loose with about 75 rounds of ammunition in a 4 minute shooting spree before fleeing the scene. Syed’s attempt to trigger the bomb with a telephone failed. Investigators later concluded the attack was only the first of more planned attacks as the extra ammunition and their fleeing the scene would indicate. At the bloody scene 14 people were left dead and another 22 wounded.
A party goer had recognized Syed and gave the information to the police. When law enforcement units arrived at the Farook household, the couple fled in an SUV. The chase lasted only 1.7 miles before it ended in gunfire, with 2 officers wounded and both of the terrorists killed. A fake bomb had been thrown at pursuing police during the chase.
Marquez was later convicted of fraudulently purchasing the rifles used in the attack, as well as complicity in planning the attack. Investigation also revealed the complicity of some of Syed’s relatives and that his mother had been aware of the planned attack, leading the FBI to sue the family for proceeds from life insurance policies on Syed. Syed’s brother and sister-in -law were convicted of immigration fraud for complicity in the “sham” marriage” of Marquez and a sister-in-law of Syed. (All involved, Enrique Marquez Jr., Raheel Farook, Tatiana Farook, and Mariya Chernykh, pled guilty.)
The investigation was hampered by the inability of the FBI to gain access to the memory of Syed’s cell phone, and Apple was contacted for assistance with retrieving the necessary data. Apple, the “All-American” company that is (depending on which day it is) the most valuable company in the world, refused to help the FBI! The FBI managed to break the codes with the help of hackers hired by the agency. The wrangling over whether or not Apple should assist with the breaking of their own coding system became a national news story and an issue of the rights of the company and its customers. Another media frenzy concerned the access to the Farook apartment after the law enforcement search had been complete, when the land lord (for money) allowed reporters access to the place and television audiences were treated to many revealing photos, including those of children related to the terrorist couple. (Though legal, the television reporting seemed highly tacky and of questionable journalistic ethics.) Obviously, some of the victims later filed a variety of lawsuits against different entities, including the County of San Bernardino and the City of San Bernardino (as if these government entities were responsible for the actions of terrorists!). Other claims were made against police agencies involved with the final shootout for property damage inflicted by bullets fired during the take down. Local Muslims boycotted the funerals of Syed and Tashfeen (except a few family members) and most local Islamic cemeteries refused to accept the couple for burial. (Eventually a willing cemetery was found.)
A knee jerk reaction to the tragedy was of course an enormous wave of anti-gun rhetoric, including comments by President Obama. Calls for “common sense” gun control rang out, but little attention was paid (as usual) to the facts of the incident in which gun laws had been violated and proposed measures would do nothing to stop similar incidents. No gun control advocates pointed out that had any good citizen party goers at the IRC been armed with a legal firearm the attack could possibly have been thwarted with fewer innocent lives lost, a point that usually elicits a fierce reaction from gun control advocates.
The San Bernardino IRC terrorist mass shooting and attempted bombing shows how vulnerable we all are to home grown terrorists, legal residents and citizens that become radicalized or mentally ill. Perhaps some method of reporting persons suspected of terrorist tendencies or mental illness with a mandatory investigative procedure could stop some future attacks, but no such mechanism has been proposed or put in place. This incident certainly contributed toward the distrust of Muslims in the United States, exacerbating an already touchy relationship between American Muslims and American non-Muslims. A year after the shooting, Donald Trump ran for President and played a strident tune of anti-Muslim oratory all the way to the White House.
Questions for Students (and others): How could the San Bernardino mass murder have been stopped before it started? Should any of the (non-drinking party goers have been armed? Should Muslim Americans be “profiled” and under surveillance by law enforcement authorities at all times? Should any group of people be blamed for the sins of a few of their number? How would California gun control laws have made the situation better or worse?
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For more information, please see…
Alexander, DE and Sol Adoni. San Bernardino Terrorism Conspiracy. Adoni Publishing, 2015.
Spitzer, Robert. The Politics of Gun Control. Amazon Digital Services, 2017.
United States Department of Defense. The Homegrown Jihadi Terrorist: The Threat of ISIS-Inspired Radicalization in the United States – American Foreign Fighters for Violent Islamist Extremism, Minnesota Cluster and Game Theory Analysis. Amazon Digital Services, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of the shooters’ Ford Expedition SUV, involved in the shootout, released by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/san-bernardino-shooting-attackers-modified-weapons-to-make-them-more-deadly-a6761566.html (http://img.thesun.co.uk/aidemitlum/archive/02589/SanBernardino_04_2589795a.jpg) was created by a government unit (including state, county, and municipal government agencies) of the State of California and is subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act (Government Code § 6250 et seq.). It is a public record that was not created by an agency which state law has allowed to claim copyright and is therefore in the public domain in the United States.
County of Santa Clara v. CFAC held that the State of California cannot enforce a copyright in any record subject to the Public Records Act in the absence of another state statute giving it the authority to do so.
Note: Works that are considered “public records” but were not created by a state or municipal government agency may be copyrighted by their author; the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution prevents state law from overriding the author’s right to copyright protection that is granted by federal law. For example, a state agency may post images online of the final appearance of a building under construction; while the images may be “public records”, their creator (eg. architecture/construction firm) retains copyright rights to the image unless the contract with the agency says otherwise. See: Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual: To what extent does federal law preempt state law regarding public inspection of records?.