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Obama says terrorism 'possible' in California mass shootings

Justin Sullivan, AFP | Police investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015

The couple accused of killing 14 people in California had more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition and a dozen pipe bombs on them and elsewhere, authorities said on Thursday as they sought to determine if the pair had possible terrorist links.

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Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, were killed in a shootout with police five hours after Wednesday's massacre at the Inland Regional Center social services agency in the city of San Bernardino. Twenty-one people were wounded in the shooting.

Farook had travelled to Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2014, the Saudi Embassy in Washington said on Thursday. Malik has been described as Farook's wife and the mother of his 6-month-old daughter.

San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a Thursday news conference that a search of a townhouse in nearby Redlands believed used by Farook and Malik yielded flash drives, computers and cellphones.

Burguan said the couple had two assault-style rifles, two handguns and 1,600 rounds of ammunition in their vehicle when they were killed. At the townhouse, police found another 4,500 rounds, 12 pipe bombs and bomb-making equipment.

The guns were legally purchased in the United States.

'It is possible that this was terrorist-related'

Officials in Washington familiar with the investigation said so far there was no hard evidence of a direct connection between the shooters and any militant group abroad but that the electronics would be checked to see if the couple had been browsing jihadist websites or social media.

Officials from President Barack Obama to Burguan said the attack may have been an act of terrorism but a motive had not yet been determined.

"At this stage, we do not yet know why the terrible event occurred," Obama said. "We don't know at this point the extent of their plans. We do not know their motivations."

"It is possible that this was terrorist-related. But we don't know. It's also possible that this was workplace-related," the president said.

The Whitehouse announced that the president signed a proclamation calling for all US flags to be flown at half-mast through Monday to honor the victims of the shooting.

Burguan told reporters that Farook was a US-born county employee who had attended a party at the social services facility, and later returned to open fire on the celebration.

He said Farook and Malik were believed to be the only shooters involved in the rampage noting that they were heavily armed, pointing to some degree of planning. The couple were dressed in assault-style clothing and also placed several bombs at the scene, which police detonated.

The shooting took place at the Inland Regional Center, one of 21 facilities serving people with developmental disabilities run by the state, said Nancy Lungren, spokeswoman for the California Department of Developmental Services.

Television images showed people being evacuated from the building, their arms raised, as triage stations were set up outside. Police and SWAT teams were seen surrounding the building.

Community in shock

Farook's family and co-workers struggled to make sense of the shooting. His brother-in-law, Farhan Kahn, came forward at a press conference to voice his shock at the notion he could have committed mass murder.

"I have no idea why he would do that," a visibly shaken Khan told reporters, adding that he had last spoken with Farook about a week ago.

California's Muslim community expressed its horror at the deadly rampage. Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said its members "unequivocally condemn the horrific act that happened today."

"The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence," he added in a statement.

Nizaam Ali, a 23-year-old college student who said he knew Farook from mosque, said Farook prayed two to three times a week during his lunch break at the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah of America mosque in San Bernardino. Ali said he had not seen any signs of radicalisation or extremism.

Farook told Ali that he married his wife, whom he met online, in July 2014. Ali added that Farook's wife wore the niqab, a scarf that covers most of the face, which was something Farook had mentioned he liked about her.

 

'No terrorist link made so far'

 

Obama laments ‘pattern’ of shootings

Speaking soon after the shooting, the deadliest since the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, President Barack Obama decried what he called a "pattern" of such killings in the United States.

“The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” Obama told CBS News.

“There are some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Twitter: “I refuse to accept this as normal. We must take action to stop gun violence now.”

The shooting in California comes less than a week after a gunman killed three people and wounded nine in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. In October, a gunman killed nine people at a college in Oregon and in June a white gunman killed nine black churchgoers in South Carolina.

FBI data released this week revealed that more US residents applied to purchase handguns, rifles and other firearms from licensed dealers on Black Friday than any other day on record.

More than 185,000 applications were processed on November 27 by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which determines whether a person is eligible to purchase guns from a licensed dealership.

 

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP, AFP)

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