By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The San Bernardino shooting killed 14 people and wounded a further 21 more. Media reports have quoted an unnamed official as stating that the two suspects, Tashfeen Malik and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook, had been in contact with one known terrorist suspect and Malik had pledged her loyalty to the Islamic State though it doesn’t appear that the group directed this attack. Because of the presence of IS on social media and their continued publication of materials that aid in radicalization and offer tips on how to carry out act of terror, it is certainly possible that Farook and Malik gained some knowledge from the group via these avenues.
The investigation is ongoing and we’ll undoubtedly learn more about this attack in the coming days and weeks, but the debate over stopping these attacks kicked off even before the car chase and ensuing shootout with police ended. Many observers took to social media to complain about gun violence in general and the ease with which a firearm can be acquired in particular. Others pushed back by defending the principles of the Bill of Rights, but one thing overlooked in this debate was eyewitness accounts of anomalous behavior exhibited by Farook in particular prior to the attack.
Farook and Malik managed to purchase not only the firearms used in the San Bernardino attack, but also purchased supplies to build multiple improvised explosive devices. Indeed, officials described the attackers’ home as a veritable IED manufacturing facility. Because of initiatives carried out by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, buying certain materials tend to raise suspicions among retailers and often result in a call to law enforcement. The Zazi case among other demonstrated this quite well. Zazi attempted to purchase an inordinate supply of hydrogen peroxide claiming that his ‘girlfriends’ needed it for their hair. the absurd statement led to the disruption of a terrorist plot that could have been disastrous.
Officials have stated that many of the IED’s discovered at the Farook home were of the common pipe bomb variety. This means that Farook or Malik had to purchase the pipe and end caps, but also had to have some knowledge of what chemicals were needed to create an explosive device. It may have been a simple black powder explosive – again, this is quite common – however making the IED’s work as intended takes practice. Purchasing many of these items, especially in a quantity that these attackers possessed, should have alerted the retailers to contact law enforcement. There are few home applications that require a dozen twelve inch lengths of three inch pipe with screw on end caps. Many home improvement stores call law enforcement immediately when this occurs. It’s possible that Farook and Malik shopped around to avoid suspicion, but that’s speculation at this point.
So far in the investigation, it is apparent that the attackers engaged in enough activities that coworkers or neighbors should have notified law enforcement about their concerns regarding these two individuals. In fact, many witnesses have already said as much, but they were afraid of being labeled a racist or bigot. Unfortunately, these are legitimate concerns and as I have witnessed myself in past cases many witnesses are reluctant to come forward for fear of crying wolf of being labeled a ‘tattle tale’ (one such case this term was actually used by the witness). As unbelievable as it may sound these are roadblocks to preventing not just atrocities as we recently witnessed in California, but to a lot of crime in general. As author and security expert Gavin De Becker once wrote, “don’t put your personal pride above your personal safety.” If you see something that doesn’t look quite right, or bothers you so much you have to discuss it with a friend or family member for a sanity check, then that is the time to call the proper authorities. Doing so may save a life – including your own.