Richard A. Serrano et al., Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2015
An examination of digital equipment recovered from the home of the couple who killed 14 people in San Bernardino last week has led FBI investigators to believe the shooters were planning an even larger assault, according to federal government sources.
Investigators on Thursday continued to search for digital footprints left by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, scouring a downtown San Bernardino lake for electronic items, including a hard drive that the couple was hoping to destroy, sources told The Times.
Farook and Malik were in the final planning stages of an assault on a location or building that housed a lot more people than the Inland Regional Center, possibly a nearby school or college, according to federal sources familiar with the widening investigation.
Investigators have based that conclusion on evidence left behind on Farook and Malik’s computers and digital devices, not all of which the couple were able to destroy before they were killed in a firefight with police, the sources said.
Images of San Bernardino-area schools were found on a cellphone belonging to Farook, according to a law enforcement source. But the source cautioned that Farook may have had a legitimate reason to have the images because his work as a county health inspector involved checking on school dining facilities.
On Thursday, one of the federal government sources told The Times that Farook asked his friend and neighbor, Enrique Marquez, to buy two military-style rifles used in the attacks because he feared he “wouldn’t pass a background check” if he attempted to acquire the weapons on his own. The rifles were bought at a local gun store, the source said.
The timing of the rifle purchases is significant to FBI investigators. Another federal government source previously told The Times that Farook may have been considering a separate terror plot in 2011 or 2012.
Farook was self-radicalizing around that time, FBI Director James Comey said, and met Malik soon after, eventually escorting her to the United States. Farook was a practicing Muslim. Marquez converted to Islam around the time he purchased the weapons, sources have told The Times.
Marquez has emerged as a central figure in the investigation. The FBI had been conducting interviews with 24-year-old, who checked himself into a mental health facility after the attacks.
The former Wal-Mart security guard has waived his Miranda rights and cooperated with the inquiry, and it was Marquez who told FBI agents about Farook’s earlier plans, according to one of the government sources, who also requested anonymity.
“They were talking generally about something, but I don’t think it made it to anything specific,” one of the sources said of the earlier plot. “I don’t think it got to a time or a place.”
Hours after the shooting, Marquez posted a cryptic message on his Facebook page.
“I’m. Very sorry sguys,” the message read. “It was a pleasure.”
Marquez told FBI agents that the Facebook post has been “misunderstood,” according to one of the government sources. Agents are concerned that Marquez’s mental and emotional state may affect what he has been telling interrogators, the source said.