SAN BERNARDINO, Calif., (Reuters) – Authorities sought on Thursday to determine if a couple accused of killing 14 people in a mass shooting at a workplace holiday party in Southern California had links to Islamic militant groups abroad, U.S. officials familiar with the investigation said.
Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, who had a 6-month-old daughter together, were killed in a shootout with police after Wednesday’s massacre at the Inland Regional Center in the city of San Bernardino, a social services agency where Farook worked as an inspector.
Officials in Washington familiar with the investigation said so far there was no hard evidence of a direct connection between the shooters and any militant group abroad. The sources said authorities had raided a townhouse believed used by the couple in search of electronic devices that could show if they had been browsing on Jihadist websites or social media.
“Rest assured that we will get to the bottom of this,” President Barack Obama said at the White House, adding that the FBI was taking over the investigation.
Farook and Malik were identified as Muslims.
CNN, citing law enforcement sources, said Farook had been “radicalized.” CNN also said he had been in touch through telephone and social media with more than one international terrorism suspect who was being investigated by the FBI.
Officials from Obama to San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said the attack may have been an act of terrorism but that a motive had not yet been determined.
“It is possible that this was terrorist-related. But we don’t know,” Obama told reporters. “It is also possible that this was workplace-related.”
Farook, a U.S. citizen, was born in Illinois, the son of Pakistani immigrants, according to Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Los Angeles area chapter of the Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Malik, his wife, was born in Pakistan and had been living in Saudi Arabia before marrying Farook, Ayloush said.
The local police chief said 21 people were wounded, four more than previously stated. Ten people remained hospitalized at two local hospitals on Thursday, two in critical but stable condition, three in fair condition and five in stable condition, the hospitals said.
The two assault rifles and two handguns recovered from the shootout were legally purchased in the United States, said Meredith Davis, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Two of them were purchased by someone “associated with this investigation,” while the buyer of the other two was not linked to the investigation, she said.
The long guns were .223-caliber and their ammunition can go through protective vests and walls, Davis said.
Officials did not provide the names of the gun purchasers or say where the firearms were bought.
In addition to sparking further debate on gun control laws, the latest mass slaying in the United States came with much of the world on edge following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris by Islamic State militants that killed 130 people.
Ayloush appealed to the public not to jump to conclusions about the motives behind the attacks. He said he was concerned about a backlash against the broader Muslim community in view of the rise of Islamic State and some opposition among politicians and the public in the United States over U.S. plans to accept Syrian war refugees.
“We’re living in a very difficult time,” he told CNN. “There’s a lot of Islamophobia out there, a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment, fueled by pundits here and there trying to blame a whole community for the acts of a few.”
Burguan said Wednesday’s shooting broke out after Farook, a county public health employee, attended the party at the Inland Regional Center and, at some point, stormed out. He and Malik later returned, both clad in masks and black assault-style clothing, and opened fire, Burguan said. They also placed several bombs at the scene, which police detonated, authorities said.
Burguan said Farook had not known criminal record.
Burguan said the manner in which the couple was equipped indicated there was “some degree of planning” behind the attack.
About five hours after the assault, police spotted Farook and Malik in a vehicle about two miles (3.2 km) away. The couple died in a shootout with police.
The San Bernardino rampage was the deadliest U.S. shooting incident since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which 27 people, including the gunman, were killed.
There have been more than 350 shootings this year in which four or more people were wounded or killed in the United States, according to the crowd-sourced website shootingtracker.com, which keeps a running tally of U.S. gun violence.
“I don’t think any community is immune,” San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis told CBS. “Certainly, we don’t anticipate that kind of thing happening here. It was a shock.”
Davis, whose largely working-class city is 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles, said on Twitter he had a “heartfelt conversation” about the killings with Obama, who used the incident to make another call for gun law reform to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings.
“We have a no-fly list where people can’t get on planes but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them,” Obama said in an interview with CBS News on Thursday.
Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in memory of the shooting victims.