SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (Reuters) – Two years ago, Tashfeen Malik was a new bride radiating beauty and happiness at a reception for hundreds at a California mosque to celebrate her marriage to Syed Rizwan Farook.
On Friday, people attending prayers at the same mosque struggled to reconcile their memories of that happy event with news that Farook, 28, and Malik, 29, killed 14 people in a shooting rampage Wednesday in the city of San Bernardino. Both died in a later shootout with police, and the FBI is investigating the massacre as an “act of terrorism.”
The Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, stopped short of claiming responsibility for the violence, however, on it’s Al-Bayan daily broadcast it said, “Two followers of Islamic State attacked several days ago a center in San Bernardino in California.
The Islamic State report praised the attack, but did not characterize Syad Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, as members of the group.
In his Saturday radio address, President Obama said the attacks show a need to “prevent people from falling victim to these hateful ideologies.”
“It is entirely possible that these two attackers were radicalized to commit this act of terror. And if so, it would underscore a threat we’ve been focused on for years — the danger of people succumbing to violent extremist ideologies,” Obama said.
Malik was brought to Southern California from Saudi Arabia by Farook. A native of Pakistan, she appears to have left a less visible footprint here than her U.S.-born husband, who had a public sector job and family here. They left behind a 6-month-old daughter.
“She was a beautiful lady. She was very happy that night,” said Nasima Nila, 31, who attended the reception at the Islamic Center of Riverside. “She was a new bride.”
She was also very quiet. Attendees recalled that at the celebration, where women and men were separated, Malik quietly sat on a couch on the women’s side of the mosque and said little other than thanking community members for their congratulations and answering simple questions if asked, Nila said.
She was speaking English that night, community members recalled, and mostly interacted with relatives.
Nila said she never saw Malik after the reception, which mosque director Mustafa Kuko said 250 to 300 people attended. Some of the men knew Farook said they had never met his wife.
On Friday, social media network Facebook confirmed that comments praising Islamic State were posted around the time of the mass shooting to a Facebook account established under an alias by Malik. However, it was uncertain whether the comments were posted by Malik herself.
Between 2012 and 2014, Farook would come to the mosque twice a day – for the morning prayers, as early as 4:30 a.m. and evening prayers after work – said the mosque’s director, Mustafa Kuko, and asked for his blessing before going to Saudi Arabia to marry Malik.
A federal law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times that Farook had some type of contact with people from at least two militant organizations overseas — the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in Syria and the radical al Shabaab group in Somalia.
But people who knew him at area mosques had no idea.
That they knew of him was that he loved cars and would often perform free oil changes for people in the parking lot.
Amir Abdul-Jalil, 50, said he was good friends with Farook. He said he was one of the “sweetest Muslims I ever met” and that Farook had invited him over for dinner one night a couple years ago, before he was married.
Abdul-Jalil said he met Malik once, but did not speak with her beyond exchanging pleasantries.
“I loved this brother and I’m so hurt today,” Abdul-Jalil said. “I can’t believe that the guy I knew would do this.”
At another area mosque, the Dar-Al-Uloom Al-Islamiyah, where Farook went more recently about two to three times a week, Gasser Shehata said he knew Farook to be “a very quiet person, more on the shy side.”
Shehata also attended the wedding reception, which he described as jovial, and said Farook was delighted with his new daughter.
“When he had the baby, he was extremely happy,” Shehata said. “If something happened to him, it happened very recently, in the last 30 to 60 days.”
Attendance at Friday prayers at both mosques was thinner than usual and some members said their family and friends had advised them against going for fear of a violent backlash.
Afarin Rahmani, 44, said she felt “guilty” that someone from her community was responsible for the shootings.
“People blame us with everything going on. You start to feel guilty,” she said. “I would have taken the bullet. We are all afraid of the same things.”