NEW YORK—The husband-and-wife team who killed 14 people and wounded 21 others this month in San Bernardino, California, communicated privately about jihad and martyrdom before they were married, but there is no evidence to suggest the couple revealed those thoughts publicly on social media, the FBI director said Wednesday.
“We can see from our investigation that in late 2013, before there is a physical meeting of these two people resulting in their engagement and then their journey to the United States, they’re communicating online, showing signs in their communication of their joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom,” James Comey said after a New York conference involving the city’s police department and private businesses.
Comey said those messages between Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were direct, private messages.
“So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom,” he said.
Comey appeared to be referring to media reports suggesting that Malik had spoken openly on social media about jihad and that background checks had not detected those comments.
Comey also said the July 16 attack in two military sites Chattanooga, during which five U.S. service members were killed, was “inspired and motivated by foreign terrorist propaganda.” The FBI had previously hesitated to use the word terrorism in relation to the attack.
Comey said he understands Americans are jittery, but citizens should try to channel their awareness into vigilance, not panic. He said the threat from the Islamic State group has not changed — but it’s vastly different from how terror cells operated around the time of the Sept. 11 attack.
“Your parents’ al-Qaida is a very different model and was a very different threat that what we face today,” he said.
The message is so much easier to receive now, he said. Islamic State operatives reach out via social media, and they want eager followers to join the fight at the Syria-Iraq border or kill where they are. And they use encrypted messaging programs that no one can access — not even the companies who make them.
Comey reiterated a push by many law enforcement agencies around the country to change how technology companies encrypt applications to make it easier for agents to access messages with a court order.