He was 28 years old and a successful professional. His wife was a pharmacist who weighed a whopping 90 pounds. The two of them had a six-month-old daughter and no known nefarious affiliations, criminal records, or suspicious travel habits. However, on December 2, 2015, these two archetypal terrorists committed senseless premeditated cold-blooded mass murder.
Syed Rizwan Farook was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1986, the son of Pakistani immigrants. Farook’s father was abusive towards his mother, and his childhood was difficult. He graduated a year early from High School and subsequently earned a degree in environmental health. On a dating website, he listed target practice as one of his hobbies.
Farook had worked for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health for five years and knew his coworkers well. Two weeks before the Christmas party he had attempted to explain to a coworker how Islam was a religion of peace. He was a dedicated Sunni Muslim who had completed the hajj to Saudi Arabia in 2013.
Farook’s wife Tashfeen Malik was a native of Pakistan but was raised in Saudi Arabia. She held a degree in Pharmacology from the Bahauddin Zakariya University and had attended an intensive 18-month Quranic study at an all-female religious academy. Farook and Malik met online and were married in 2014. She passed three aggressive Homeland Security screenings before being allowed to enter the country on a K-1 (fiancée) visa. Malik was a deeply committed practitioner of her faith, wearing both a burqa and niqab and encouraging others to do likewise.
The couple dropped off their infant daughter with Farook’s mother claiming they were going to a doctor’s appointment. Farook then went to the Inland Regional Center, a government-funded non-profit multi-use facility, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying a backpack. He lingered for two hours but seemed distracted throughout. He then consulted his phone and got up to leave. Before departing he posed for photographs with his coworkers. He abandoned his day pack on the table near his seat.
At around 11:00 Farook and Malik approached the facility, now dressed in black and heavily armed. They wore tactical vests carrying spare magazines but had no body armor. Outside the building, they shot and killed two of Farook’s coworkers.
Over the next three minutes, the two terrorists fired about one hundred rounds and killed fourteen helpless civilians between the ages of 26 and 60. Three of the victims were refugees who had come to America from Iran, Vietnam, and Eritrea to escape persecution. They wounded another twenty-two.
Almost all of the victims were shot in the back. One man was killed while shielding a coworker with his body. Three men attempted to intervene but were gunned down. One round struck a sprinkler in the building and activated the fire suppression system, contributing to the visceral chaos of the scene.
Eyewitnesses reported that they recognized Farook based on his habitus. We can therefore only assume words were exchanged during the shooting. Witnesses also reported that they recognized the second shooter as female based upon her tight clothing and small stature.
The first police officer was onsite three minutes and thirty-two seconds after the initial 911 call. The first four LE officers responded appropriately by entering the building immediately and sweeping it for the shooters. They rightfully ignored the pleas of the wounded, instead prioritizing the neutralization of the threat. The San Bernardino SWAT team happened to be nearby on a training exercise and arrived eleven minutes after the initial call. 57 minutes later the last of the wounded were evacuated to area hospitals.
The rucksack abandoned by Farook contained a series of three pipe bombs primed with Christmas lights and wired into a radio-controlled car. Apparently Farook got the plans for his IED from Al Qaeda’s Inspire Magazine, an online DIY terrorism manual. These devices were intended to be detonated upon the arrival of rescue personnel. They failed to explode and were later neutralized by a bomb disposal team.
Farook and Malik escaped the scene in a rented black Ford Expedition. A witness to the shooting fingered Farook as the shooter, and police identified the rental SUV in short order. Plainclothes officers set up surveillance at the terrorists’ home and spotted them leaving some four hours after the attack. Roughly half the world’s cops then closed in on the two fleeing psychopaths.
During their attempted escape the terrorists threw a dummy pipe bomb out of their vehicle at pursuing officers. Police eventually stopped the vehicle in a residential neighborhood. Farook and Malik exited their respective sides of the SUV and immediately engaged Law Enforcement officers. Their movements seemed coordinated and professional.
Seven LE agencies were involved in the final gun battle. 23 officers fired 440 rounds, and the terrorists answered with 81 rounds of their own. When the dust settled both terrorists were dead. Authorities found nearly 2,500 rounds of .223 and 9mm ammunition unused in the vehicle. They also discovered medical supplies and the trigger for their failed bomb.
Farook carried a Smith and Wesson M&P AR-15 rifle that he had tried and failed to convert to full auto. His M&P sported a 16-inch barrel, flash suppressor, and forward handgrip along with a cheap red dot optic and single point sling. If you look really closely at the photograph of the gun you can just make out the autosear hole that was apparently drilled improperly.
Farook’s sidearm was a Springfield Armory XDM 9mm with a stainless slide. The images of the weapon taken immediately after the fight show it to be fairly battered. The weapon purportedly malfunctioned as Farook attempted to kill approaching officers after he was gunned down. The images of the gun show it with the slide partially retracted.
Malik’s weapon was a low-end Panther Arms A-15. This weapon lacks a forward assist and ejection port cover. Her gun also has a railed forend, flash suppressor, vertical foregrip, and cheap optic. The back half of the optic appears to have been shot away at some point during the gun battle. Her weapon was originally equipped with a bullet button that the criminals had disabled. Both weapons were fed with plentiful standard capacity 30-round magazines.
The woman’s sidearm was a Llama XI-B 1911 in 9mm. This is a Spanish-made 1911 pistol with a Commander-style slide fitted with aftermarket wraparound grips. The weapon as photographed in the aftermath of the shooting appears to be in Condition 1.
These four weapons reflect a shooter who is obviously familiar with the equipment but operating on a fairly tight budget. Farook accumulated his weapons over the course of three years using a neighbor as a straw buyer for the rifles. He had illegally modified both of the long guns to circumvent arcane California gun laws.
What possible darkness could possess two young parents to abandon their 6-month-old daughter and sacrifice their lives to slaughter a building full of innocent people? Not meaning to seem overly judgmental but if your god demands stuff like that you might quite possibly be worshipping the wrong deity.
Farook’s family as well as local and national Muslim organizations vehemently condemned the couple’s actions. American Muslims subsequently raised more than $150,000 in support of victims’ families.
This operation was clearly months if not years in the making. The terrorists accumulated the equipment and meticulously planned the attack. Had it not been for timely interdiction by Law Enforcement this horrible tragedy would have been all the more horrible.
After a lifetime of study, I cannot intelligently articulate the sundry details of California firearms law. Suffice it to say that the San Bernardino shootings illustrate the ludicrous nature of trying to regulate the actions of a psychopath via legislation. Bullet buttons, bayonet lugs, magazine restrictions, and scary features seem awfully silly in this context.
If you peruse the source material of some of these radical Islamist groups you will find that fomenting xenophobia against Muslims is one of their central tenets. By creating anger and violence against Muslim minorities they expect to fuel an uprising and further their own recruitment and radicalization goals. Skepticism and vigilance are necessary for our cultural survival, but racially-fueled hatred toward particular people groups feeds into our enemy’s dark mission.
Given the lead time these two animals had, I could have procured the machine tools, taught myself to use them, and built my weapons literally from scratch. Absolutely no amount of draconian gun control legislation will ever affect lunatics like this in a nation that already has 393 million firearms in circulation. To believe otherwise is simply magical thinking.
In the final analysis, the only thing that could have influenced the carnage at the Inland Regional Center that horrible day would have been an armed civilian or three. The cops arrived three and one-half minutes after they were called and responded perfectly, yet fourteen people still died. Sadly, the state of California had ensured that no one present had the means to defend themselves.