Woman in California rampage had become more devout

Sunday, December 6, 2015
Hifza Batool, a relative of Tashfeen Malik, talks to an Associated Press reporter Saturday at her home in Karor Lal Esam, Pakistan. Batool said other relatives have said Malik, who was her step-niece, used to wear Western clothes but began wearing the hijab head covering or the all-covering burqa donned by the most conservative Muslim women about three years ago. (Asim Tanveer ~ Associated Press)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- A change came over Tashfeen Malik two or three years ago.

She started dressing more conservatively, wearing a scarf that covered nearly all her face and became more devout in her Muslim faith, according to some who knew her in Pakistan.

But her path from there to the bloody events of last week -- when she and her husband killed 14 people in a commando-style shooting rampage -- remains a mystery, with FBI officials, family lawyers and others saying they know little about the 29-year-old housewife and new mother.

As the FBI announced Friday it is investigating the massacre as a terrorist attack, law-enforcement authorities and others offered evidence Malik held radical beliefs and shared them online, posting praise for the Islamic State group on Facebook about the same moment she and her American-born husband, Syed Farook, 28, launched the rampage.

The turn in the investigation raised a host of questions, among them:

Tashfeen Malik

* If the couple was radicalized, when, where and how did it happen?

* If it happened before Malik came to the U.S., did counterterrorism authorities miss warning signs when they investigated her before approving her visa?

* Which of them was the driving force in the attack?

"Malik seems to be a very nebulous figure," said Natana DeLong-Bas, an assistant professor of theology at Boston College. She said the case should cause people to rethink some assumptions about extremism.

"We always seem to assume only a man would be capable of making a terrorist attack," DeLong-Bas said. "Because we know so little about Tashfeen Malik, it's possible she might have been the main organizer in this event and talked her husband into doing it."

Husband and wife were killed in a shootout with police hours after they put on battle gear and stormed a social-service center with assault rifles, opening fire on a gathering of Farook's colleagues from the San Bernardino County health department, where he worked as a restaurant inspector.

A U.S. law enforcement official said Malik used a Facebook alias to pledge her allegiance to the Islamic State group and its leader. And a Facebook official said Malik praised Islamic State in a post at the start of the attack. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Similarly, U.S. officials said Farook had been in contact with extremists via social media, but one official said those contacts were not recent and did not involve significant players on the FBI's radar.

FBI director James Comey said Friday there was no indication so far the couple was part of a larger cell or was directed by a foreign terror organization.

Farook was born in Chicago to Pakistani parents and raised in Southern California.

Malik arrived in the U.S. in 2014 on a Pakistani passport and a fiancee visa but had spent extended periods of time in Saudi Arabia.

She started studying pharmacy at Bahauddin Zakariya University in the Pakistani city of Multan in 2012.

A maid who worked in the Multan home where Malik lived said Malik initially wore a scarf that covered her head but not her face. A year before she got married, she began wearing a scarf that covered all but her nose and eyes, the maid said. The maid spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing her employment with the family.

A relative of Malik's in Pakistan, Hifza Batool, reported hearing similar things from other family members about Malik, her step-niece.

"I recently heard it from relatives that she has become a religious person and she often tells people to live according to the teachings of Islam," said Batool, a teacher who lives in Karor Lal Esan, about 280 miles southwest of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

The Farook family attorneys, David Chesley and Mohammad Abuershaid, said none of his relatives had any indication Farook or his wife held extremist views. The lawyers described Malik as "just a housewife" and cautioned against rushing to judgment.

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