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Portrait: the young couple behind a shooting rampage in California

AFP | Syed Rizwan Farook, a US citizen, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani national, are accused of killing 14 people in an attack in California

A young married couple accused of killing 14 people at an office party in San Bernardino, California, bore little resemblance to the young men typically accused of involvement in terrorist activities.

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The couple, who are accused of killing 14 people at an office holiday party in San Bernardino, California, kept a low profile on social media. They had a 6-month-old infant and a steady income. Those who knew them said they didn’t talk about jihad or radical Islam, even as they were amassing an arsenal of pipe bombs and assault weapons.

The husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, was a 28-year-old American citizen of Pakistani descent who was born in the United States. His wife, Tashfeen Malik, who is believed to be in her late 20s, was a Pakistani national who lived in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years.

They bore little resemblance to the aimless young men who have been arrested in the United States in the past for plotting violent attacks.

Both Farook and Malik died in a shootout with police hours after Wednesday's attack at the Inland Regional Center social services agency in San Bernardino, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles.

‘Very nice person’

With a new baby, a steady job as a health inspector and a large extended family, Farook showed little outward signs of the social isolation and violent rhetoric that the National Counterterrorism Center says can make individuals susceptible to extremist ideology.

An attorney for Farook’s family said he was an isolated individual who had few friends, but the family had no idea that he was planning an attack.

Farook was born in Chicago to Pakistani immigrants and raised in southern California. In a profile on an Indian matrimonial site, Imilap.com, a user identified as “farooksyed49” described himself as a 22-year-old Muslim living in Riverside and working as a county health inspector, the LA Times reported.

“Enjoy working on vintage and modern cars, read religious books, enjoy eating out sometimes travel, and just hang out in back yard doing target practice with younger sister and friends,” the profile read.

The mosque director of the Islamic Center of Riverside, Mustapha Kuko, described Farook – who had worshipped at the mosque until about two years ago – as quiet, private and devoted to Koran study, the paper said.

At the San Bernardino mosque Dar-Al-Uloom Al-Islamiyah of America, where Farook also worshipped, another congregant who gave his name as Ali described Farook to the LA Times as “a very nice person, very soft”.

Ali said Farook had memorised the Koran, a rare accomplishment for even devout Muslims.

‘Just a housewife’

The couple met online a few years ago and married last year in Islam’s holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Malik entered the United States on a fiancée visa in 2014.

The LA Times reported that the couple held a celebration at the Islamic Center of Riverside for those who could not attend the Mecca ceremony. Colleagues from the public health department where Farook worked as an inspector threw the couple a baby shower. An online baby registry in Malik’s name listed a large box of Pampers, Johnson’s safety swabs, a car seat and baby wash, the paper said.

The FBI has acknowledged that it knows little about Tashfeen Malik. Those who attended the mosque with Farook also said they knew nearly nothing about his wife. Even Farook's mother, who lived with the couple and their daughter, was unaware of many aspects of their private lives, according to attorneys for Farook's family.

The lawyers described Malik on Friday as "just a housewife" who was quiet like her husband and strictly followed Muslim custom. She wore traditional clothing that covered her face so that her brothers-in-law didn't even know what she looked like, according to the lawyers who now represent Farook's mother and his three siblings.

Authorities say she ditched the Muslim garb for a combat-style outfit Wednesday for the attack.

Unlike many members of the Millennial generation, Farook and Malik left few digital footprints on the social-media outlets that have prompted many other FBI investigations. The couple doesn’t appear to have been on any sort of terrorism watch list, government officials have told Reuters.

FBI officials said on Friday that Malik pledged allegiance to Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an online post shortly before she and Farook stormed the party on Wednesday. Facebook said it had taken down a page set up by Malik under an alias and is cooperating with investigators.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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