More details about the connections between the San Bernardino shooters and extremists were revealed on Thursday, the same day that the Department of Homeland Security gave a classified briefing to U.S. legislators and FBI divers starting searching a lake in San Bernardino.
Seccombe Lake Park is about two miles from Inland Regional Center, where the shooting took place. Divers were specifically looking for a computer hard drive that might have been dumped before the suspects’ final shoot-out with police. On Friday, the team was still searching — and seemed to find something, according to reporters at the San Bernardino Sun and the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
The Sun reports that “[s]ometime around 12:30 p.m., a diver emerged from the water with an item about the size of a half a sandwich. The item was handed to an agent standing outside the lake, who placed it into a bag and ran it to the command post.” The Press-Enterprise adds, “The object in question is round, and appears to be a CD or other storage device.”
A data-recovery expert told the Los Angeles Times that the authorities should be able to recover data from a hard drive if it is found. “The only real way to destroy this stuff is hit it with a hammer.”
Reuters reports that Tashfeen Malik, who came to the U.S. on a fiancée visa last year, tried to contact Islamic extremists a few months ago. They ignored her, perhaps afraid that she was working with the Feds or would alert the authorities to their existence. On Friday, the Associated Press added that Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook, Malik’s future husband, might have talked about jihad and dying for the cause while still in the online-dating phase of their relationship — things that the authorities missed. Malik’s brother told the Los Angeles Times on Friday, “We don’t have any idea about what happened over there. We are only learning about it from news reports.”
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the Obama administration might ask Congress to alter the fiancée visa program. “It certainly is possible that after this investigation has made more progress … that we may ask Congress for some additional assistance in reforming the program that allowed the female terrorist into the United States. But there’s still more information that needs to be learned.”
According to CNN, Farook may have known Sohiel Kabir. Kabir was arrested in Riverside, California, in 2012 for trying to go to Afghanistan to help Al Qaeda with four other recruits. A suspected ISIS recruiter — who used to live in Minneapolis and now is in a Somali jail — said earlier this week, per ABC News, that he had no contact with the shooters.
The Los Angeles Times also reported on Thursday that the suspects 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.”
Legislators, who had just received a briefing on the investigation, told the AP that it wasn’t clear that the authorities would have been able to pick up on these things. “Explain to me how you do that without any bread crumbs that are obvious, without somebody that’s inside a mosque, that’s inside a person’s family that tips you off,” Senator Richard Burr said. “In this particular case there was nothing like that that gave them a reason to look at this couple sooner than after the attack.”
The first funeral for a San Bernardino shooting victim was held on Thursday, and was attended by hundreds of people. Twenty-seven-year-old Yvette Velasco’s parents told the Los Angeles Times, “We are devastated about what happened, and are still processing this nightmare.”
Meanwhile, CBS News reports that the Feds might hit Farook’s former neighbor Enrique Marquez with some federal charges because of his connection to the attack. He bought the two rifles that the shooters used in the attack that left 14 people dead last week — reportedly because Farook was afraid he wouldn’t be able to pass a background check. According to the Los Angeles Times, Marquez, who once wanted to join the Navy, wrote, “I’m. Very sorry sguys. It was a pleasure,” on his Facebook wall the day after the shooting. Walmart, where Marquez worked, has fired him.
Marquez’s mother told reporters on Thursday, “I want to be left in peace. When I am ready, I will sit down and talk to you. My life changed since Wednesday. My son is a good person. A good person. The rest, I don’t know how it happened. I want to see him.”
A few people who knew Marquez from his time working at a dive bar in Riverside told the New York Times that he would sometimes start talking about terrorist attacks when he got tipsy. “He would say stuff like,” one customer noted, “‘There’s so much going on. There’s so many sleeper cells, so many people just waiting. When it happens, it’s going to be big. Watch.”
CNN says federal authorities are also “examining the circumstances of the marriage” between Marquez and Mariya Chernykh, a Russian woman whose sister is married to Farook’s brother. They think the marriage, which happened last year, may have been for immigration purposes only. Those at the bar remember Marquez bragging about getting paid up to $10,000 for the sham marriage, per the New York Times. A woman who lives near Farook’s brother told the Los Angeles Times that she believed Chernykh lived with her sister, not with Marquez. “He would never leave with her, come with her, not hug her. The whole thing is very, very weird.”