The FBI admitted this afternoon that its investigation in San Bernardino had turned from workplace violence or a “mixed” attack to an act of terrorism.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Jarrod Barguan also responded to a tweetstorm alleging that cops were concealing information about a potential attack on a local movie theater.
Barguan said that as the Regal Cinema in downtown San Bernardino was closing up around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, the security guard was approached by a man “appearing to be Middle Eastern.” He asked the guard questions about times of operation, showtimes, and related information, then drove off in a silver Volvo 4-door, 2012 or 2013. “The security guard thought it was weird,” the chief said.
Then, a red Dodge Durango was driving slowly around the area, and “appeared to be taking some photographs around the theater.”
Barguan said San Bernardino Police put out a “be on the lookout” alert to local agencies, adding the “suspicious circumstances were noted.” He added that officers went into “regular investigative protocol” and are looking at video to try to see if there is any threat.
“There is zero evidence or information that connects that event with what happened here at the Inland Regional Center on Wednesday,” he said, adding that the police are on full alert, 12-hour schedules, “until we think it’s appropriate to stand down.”
“We are not hiding information from anybody,” Barguan added.
The chief then told reporters that the “official transfer” of the massacre at the county health department holiday banquet, in which 14 were killed and 21 wounded, put the FBI in charge of giving out all information on the investigation.
Stressing that it would be a “very long-term investigation,” David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the L.A. FBI office, stated “we are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism.”
“We have uncovered evidence that has led us to learn of extensive planning,” Bowdich said, noting “they attempted to destroy their digital fingerprints” by disposing of two cell phones found crushed in trash cans near the Redlands townhome of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. He called the phones a “potential golden nugget,” stressing investigators are still exploiting the data.
Bowdich said the feds are hoping “to build a working theory” to detail what the couple planned, including any further attacks, “but on Day 3 we don’t know.”
“Telephonic connections” between the suspects and people in the United States have been established, and investigators are “still exploring” international connections. The L.A. Times cited a law enforcement source as noting there was “some kind” of contact between Farook and people from al-Nusra Front in Syria and al-Shabaab in Somalia, both al-Qaeda-linked groups.
The FBI official said they’re “looking into” an online ISIS posting congratulating their “supporters” for the attack and citing details of the crime reported in the media. The ISIS statement included outdated facts more than 24 hours old — a lower injury toll, 17 people instead of the 21 told to reporters Thursday.
Bowdich acknowledged that Malik posted a pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the “general timeline” of the attacks. “We did not have her under investigation previously,” he said of the mysterious Pakistani woman, in the country on a K-1 fiance visa.
He said investigators have pinpointed a person who purchased weapons for the couple and “know of their location,” but that person is “not under arrest at this point.”
Asked if there was anything officials could have done to stop the attack, Bowdich emphasized “any one of us would have loved to have stopped it” as the scene was “one of the most heinous things you’ve ever seen.”
He added there’s “nothing that we’ve seen yet that would have triggered us to know.”
“We are not aware of any further threats in the U.S. at this time… Do not let this cause mass hysteria. We’re not there. We’re not there at all.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon asked the community to “remain vigilant” and “don’t hesitate to report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.”
“We have noting to suggest there’s anything additional associated with this event,” McMahon said.
Bowdich said a hotline has been established — 1-800-CALL-FBI, option 4 — to field tips about the terrorist attack. “Even if it’s small, send it to us,” he said, cautioning that lines shouldn’t be tied up by people calling in things that don’t “pertain.”