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Investigators Say San Bernardino Shooters Were Radicalized Years Before Attack


We are learning more about the two attackers who killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. last week. FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the couple appeared to have radicalized two years ago.

JAMES COMEY: They were talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and then married and lived together in the United States.

MCEVERS: Investigators are trying to determine if one of the shooters had planned and then abandoned an earlier attack. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is with us now. And, Dina, Director Comey said that the two shooters had radical sympathies even before they met. What do investigators make of that and how does that change their view of this attack?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Authorities are starting to go through NSA intercepts that involve the shooters, Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik. And you may recall that they met online through a matchmaking service. And she was in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and he was in Southern California. Comey said that their early email exchanges included discussions about violent jihad and martyrdom. So investigators are trying to determine whether this was some sort of violent, jihadi-arranged marriage or if Malik could have been some sort of honeypot trolling for a disaffected American Muslim that would allow her to come to the U.S. and attack. Now, investigators haven't determined that yet, but Director Comey said that if it turned out to be something like that, that would be a real game changer.

MCEVERS: And what do we know about this possible earlier plot in 2012?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, authorities have been questioning a man named Enrique Marquez, and he was a longtime childhood friend of Farook's. And he first came to the attention of the FBI because the two AR-15s that were used in the attack last week were registered to him. So authorities close to the investigation tell NPR that Marquez waived his Miranda rights and told investigators that he and Farook had contemplated launching an earlier terrorist attack back in 2012. But authorities are being really cautious about this because just days after the attacks, Marquez checked himself into some sort of mental institution, so investigators are trying to independently corroborative everything he's saying.

MCEVERS: How do Marquez and Syed Farook know each other?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they used to be neighbors. They went to high school together. He's related to Farook by marriage. And officials say Marquez converted to Islam, but it's unclear how dedicated he was to that. They can't find anyone who says he was a regular at any of the local mosques. And authorities aren't sure if he's talking about this other plot to deflect attention from any role he might've had in the current one. I mean, he allegedly told them that he and Farook abandoned this attack they were planning after the FBI arrested four men in Los Angeles in November, 2012. And those men were arrested for planning to join the Taliban and al-Qaida. Officials said Marquez said those arrests spooked he and Farook, so they abandoned their plan.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Thank you so much, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.