(LOS ANGELES) — Federal officials around the world Monday are urgently trying to track the backgrounds and contacts of the newly-married parents of a baby girl who killed 14 people in California last week in a suspected ISIS-inspired attack, as a new photograph emerged showing the future terrorists entering the U.S. together for the first time last year.
The image, apparently taken as the couple moved through customs in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on July 27, 2014 and obtained exclusively by ABC News, shows Tashfeen Malik clad in all black looking directly into the camera as the taller Syed Rizwan Farook stands behind her, black bearded and with a blank expression. It is the most recent photograph of the two to be made public.
U.S. officials previously said that Farook, a U.S. citizen originally from Chicago, traveled to Saudi Arabia in July 2014 and returned less than two weeks later with Malik in tow. Malik, a Pakistani who officials said spent much of her life in Saudi Arabia, entered the U.S. on a so-called “fiancé” visa, which allowed Farook to petition for her entry ahead of marriage. The two were married in the eyes of U.S. law in California just a month after their arrival, although some officials have said they could have been married earlier abroad.
The new image of the couple comes as counter-terrorism officials in Los Angeles are letting out a collective sigh of relief after bracing for a possible terrorist incident there Sunday, based on warnings from an Iraqi intelligence report. The warning, described as a “Level 1 Alert,” gave a date of the would-be attack as Sunday but was not specific about a location beyond naming Los Angeles, according to two U.S. officials who were briefed on the threat. Though such warnings are common, this one was especially worrisome in the aftermath of the San Bernardino massacre and because the Iraqi government claimed it had offered a similar warning about an attack in Paris just a day before gunmen killed 130 people there.
Over the weekend authorities raided the Riverside, California home of Enrique Marquez, an old neighbor of Farook who three law enforcement officials told ABC News had purchased the two “assault-style” weapons used in the San Bernardino attack. Marquez bought the weapons in late 2011 and early 2012, one of the officials said, and the Director of the FBI, James Comey, said Friday that Marquez, who was not publicly identified at the time, was “not a suspect, at least at this point.” It also emerged this weekend that during a raid of Farook and Malik’s home, the FBI removed a number of items including “Christmas lights” — a potential component for certain explosive devices as described in an al Qaeda magazine. After the couple was killed last week, police said they discovered a dozen explosive devices the two had apparently constructed.
Caught up in the investigation’s widening net as well is the Farook’s 66-year-old father, also named Syed Farook, who has been placed on a federal terrorist watch list, according to an official with direct knowledge of the case. The official told ABC News authorities are investigating the elder Farook’s multiple trips to his native Pakistan, including lengthy trips this year and last year.
“The FBI has identified him [the younger Farook] as a known terrorist,” the official said. “He’s dead. But he is now known as a terrorist. His father is an immediate family member who spent extended periods of time in Pakistan. He’s watch listed.”
A former senior counter-terrorism official said that family members of identified terrorists are often added to the Terrorist Identifier Datamart Environment (TIDE) as a precaution during the course of an investigation.
The official close to the case said that the elder Farook came to the U.S. in 1972 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1999.
The elder Farook reportedly spoke to an Italian newspaper over the weekend and said that his son was fascinated by the Syria-based terror group ISIS and hated Israel. Other members of Farook’s family downplayed his purported comments, telling ABC News he is “not stable” and “not handling this well.” A spokesperson for the Muslim rights organization CAIR said the father did not recall talking to the Italian newspaper.
One question authorities are still trying to answer is who in the killer couple inspired who, with investigators increasingly leaning towards Malik as the plot’s “mastermind.” Late Friday U.S. officials told ABC News and other outlets that Malik, using an alias, had published a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook right around the time of the attack last Wednesday.
Nada Bakos, a former CIA officer who worked on al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’s precursor organization, said she wouldn’t be surprised.
“Men don’t have a monopoly on terrorism or conducting violent acts,” she said. “At this point, in the evolution of terrorism, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a woman take an operational role.”
Farook’s family members and two attorneys representing them have cast doubt on the ISIS connection, saying that they never saw anything extreme in Farook or his new wife.
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