Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik — the heavily armed couple who authorities say unleashed volleys of gunfire on a holiday party in San Bernardino — had amassed an armory of weapons and explosives in their Redlands home, including a dozen pipe bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition, officials said Thursday.
The arsenal suggested a level of planning that added to investigators’ concern that Wednesday’s shootings, which left 14 dead and 21 injured, were far more than a spontaneous response to a workplace dispute.
“Certainly they were equipped and they could have continued to do another attack … we intercepted them,” San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a news conference Thursday.
A senior federal government official told the Los Angeles Times that Farook was in contact with a small number of suspected extremists. There are also indications the 28-year-old gunman communicated with at least one person who is currently being monitored as a potential terror suspect, the source said.
Farook’s connection to the potential terror suspect may only be tangential, the source said, but the link suggests there may be a “deeper terror matrix” behind the San Bernardino shootings.
Although news of the couple’s weapons cache and Farook’s possible links to extremism appeared unsettling, government officials refrained Thursday from calling the shootings an act of terror.
The eight men and six women killed were from Southern California and ranged in age from 26 to 60.
Farook and Malik fired at least 65 bullets when they stormed the office party in a conference room at the Inland Regional Center, where Farook had earlier been involved in some kind of dispute.
The couple were dressed in “assault-style” clothing when police closed in on their Redlands home Wednesday afternoon, roughly four hours after the shooting. The couple fled, sparking a vehicle pursuit that ended back in San Bernardino.
Farook and Malik exchanged hundreds of rounds with police in a firefight on San Bernardino’s streets, launching bullets into homes and terrifying residents who had already been rocked by the mass shooting earlier in the day.
Both were killed in the shootout with police.
When police searched the couple’s home, they recovered a dozen pipe bombs, 2,000 9 mm handgun rounds, 2,500 .223-caliber assault rifle rounds and “hundreds of tools” that could have been used to make additional explosive devices, Burguan said.
Farook and Malik used two assault rifles and two semi-automatic handguns in the attack on the party, all of which were purchased legally, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
As authorities continued to probe the backgrounds of the husband and wife responsible for America’s deadliest mass shooting since 2012, investigators and legislators from California to Washington, D.C., tried to understand what motivated the shooters.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, President Barack Obama said the FBI was now leading the probe into the attack at the Inland Regional Center. Investigators have yet to rule out terrorism as a motive, but police have also said that Farook was involved in a dispute at the party for employees of the San Bernardino County Health Department shortly before gunfire broke out.
“We do know that the two individuals who were killed were equipped with weapons and appeared to have access to additional weaponry at their homes,” Obama said. “But we don’t know why they did it. We don’t know at this point the extent of their plans. We do not know their motivations.”
During a news conference Thursday, Burguan said the suspects had 1,400 assault rifle rounds and 200 handgun rounds in their car as they fled from police. The couple fired 76 rounds at officers during the shootout, and officers shot 380 rounds in return. Burguan said he believed the suspects shot first.
Despite uncertainty about the motive for the attack, Burguan said the cache of weapons and ammunition found at the couple’s home obviously suggests the shootings were planned.
Police said that they believe Farook and Malik were the only people directly involved in the shooting, but said the investigation was continuing.
Federal investigators were attempting to interview three men who “were in phone contact” with Farook and his wife in the days leading up to the shooting rampage, a government official said.
“They were associates and in contact with the shooters,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
It was not clear if the three men were involved in the shooting.
On Thursday morning, FBI agents and SWAT officers also raided a condominium in Corona, Calif., where they led away one man in handcuffs, neighbors said.
A federal law enforcement source told the Times that while investigators have yet to establish a clear motive in the shooting, they are leaning toward a possible “combination of terrorism and workplace” conflict.
“We’re very involved in terms of trying to see if the motive was something inspired by a terrorist organization or directed by a terrorist organization, or whether he was self-radicalized,” said the source.
Investigators also believe the couple had a familiarity with weapons and military-style tactics.
“We want to know how they acquired that,” the source said.