(CNN) — Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the husband-wife team behind the San Bernardino attacks, were radicalized before they even met each other, the FBI director said Wednesday.
“They were actually radicalized before they started courting or dating each other online, and online as early as the end of 2013, they were talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they became engaged and then married and lived together in the United States,” FBI Director James Comey said at a Senate oversight hearing.
“We also believe they were inspired by foreign terrorist organizations,” he added. “We’re working very hard to understand exactly their association and the source of their inspiration.”
Investigators are also looking at whether the Redlands, California, couple had “other plans either for that date (last week) or earlier,” Comey said.
Meanwhile, Enrique Marquez, the former neighbor and friend of Farook, told investigators that both men conceived an attack in 2012 also in California, but they abruptly abandoned the plan, U.S. officials tell CNN.
Marquez told investigators that part of the reason the two didn’t carry out their plans was that around that time they were spooked by unrelated FBI arrests of four people charged with attempting to travel abroad to carry out jihad.
Marquez had bought guns for Farook that were among those used by Farook and his wife in the San Bernardino attacks last week.
Officials caution that Marquez’s claim of a 2012 attack could turn out to be not true and an attempt to deflect his role in helping buy weapons that Farook later used in the San Bernardino attack.
Marquez has told investigators he didn’t know about the plans for the San Bernardino shooting attack. He has not been charged with a crime.
Marquez converted to Islam and attended mosque sermons on and off for a couple years, said Azmi Hasan, who has served as facility manager of the Islamic Society of Corona-Norco since 2000 in Corona, California.
Marquez attended sermons by himself but stopped coming about two years ago. Syed Rizwan Farook’s sister and brother-in-law also attended the mosque but that he’d never seen Marquez in their company, Hasan said.
Combing online communications
Comey’s remarks on Capitol Hill confirmed earlier reports this week in which sources told CNN that investigators believe Malik was radicalized well before she came to the United States with Farook on a fiancee visa and before ISIS proclaimed its caliphate.
The FBI has found online communications between the two killers from late 2013, before they began dating, indicating the two discussing jihad, Comey said.
Investigators have found data on a tablet computer and other cell phones at the couple’s home. The FBI also has the benefits of data from U.S. intelligence agencies that collect foreign communications and from service providers for the accounts they used to communicate.
Investigators are still trying to piece together profiles of the couple, who killed 14 people and died in a gun battle with police at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino last week. They’re also working to pinpoint whether anyone in the United States or abroad helped finance and shape the plot.
Farook took out a bank loan for $28,500 in November, multiple law enforcement officials told CNN on Tuesday.
About half the money was given to Farook’s mother in the last couple of weeks, one official said, and some of it was spent on household items.
Investigators have accounted for all the money and say they do not believe any of it was provided to the killers by any outside entity backing the plot, according to one of the sources. Because of that, the officials said the loan is not considered of significant investigative value at this stage.
But one expert told CNN the loan could be another sign that Farook had been preparing for the attack.
“What it indicates is he was financing this operation or his life or his afterlife for his child and mother, using what is now wire fraud and bank fraud, so it’s just two more additional charges that the FBI will be looking at,” said Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent.
Sources: Authorities raid Malik’s former home
The final post on a Facebook page believed to be associated with Malik used the word “we” and pledged allegiance to ISIS, an indication, a U.S. official said, that it was a statement on behalf of both killers.
Investigators are working to determine whether the pair ever met or took orders from ISIS leaders, or if anyone outside the United States had a hand in or knew of their plans. Officials say it’s possible the husband and wife did everything, from becoming radicalized to planning and executing the attack, on their own.
It’s hard to say exactly what caused the couple’s views to shift.
“It’s complicated,” said another U.S. official. “They were looking to be radical and attach themselves to (a group).”
Malik grew up in central Pakistan and studied pharmacy at a university there. On Monday, Pakistani intelligence authorities raided the home owned by her father in Multan, a city about 220 miles (350 kilometers) southwest of Lahore. Malik had lived there until spring 2014, around the time she got married and moved to the United States on a fiancee visa.
After finding the residence padlocked and chained shut, authorities got inside and seized religious instruction books, audio CDs with Quran readings and various documents, according to Pakistani intelligence sources.
Malik took but never completed a Quranic course through the Al-Huda International Welfare Foundation. In a statement, the religious study center said she told her instructor in May 2014 that she wouldn’t be able to finish because she was about to get married.
Officials there condemned the attack and said there were no signs Malik had developed an extremist mindset.
“No one could ever think she could do such a heinous thing,” Al-Huda spokeswoman Farrukh Choudhry said.
Over the weekend, Farook’s father told an Italian newspaper that his son supported ISIS’ ideology of establishing an Islamic caliphate. An attorney for the family told CNN the father was on medication and didn’t recall making those comments.