Skip to main site content.
(L-R) Tashfeen Malik, wife of Syed Farook (FBI via Getty Images), Rafia Farook, mother of Syed Farook (screen grab) and Saira Khan, sister of Syed Farooq (screen grab).

Terror probe

Inside the lives of the women in the San Bernardino shooting investigation

By Colleen Curry on December 7, 2015

The investigation into last week’s deadly massacre at the San Bernardino County Public Health Department has come to focus on Tashfeen Malik, the Pakistani-born half of the husband-and-wife team believed to have killed 14 and injured 21 during the shooting spree, before being killed in a spray of police gunfire later that day.

But Malik and husband Syed Farook were also surrounded by other women authorities are now talking to as part of their investigation, including his mother, Rafia Farook, who lived with the couple, and his two sisters, to see whether they knew anything about the couples’ radicalization or plans ahead of time.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said this weekend that the FBI is looking “very, very closely” at Farook’s mother, Rafia, and whether she knew about the ammunition and weapons they were allegedly stockpiling in preparation for the attack. Meanwhile, Farook’s sisters have expressed shock at their brother’s actions and say they are willingly trying to help with the investigation.

The FBI said Monday that their investigation had so far found that both Malik and Farook had long been radicalized and had practiced shooting at gun ranges around the Los Angeles area, including just days before the attack, according to The New York Times.

Syed Rizwan Farook. (Photo by FBI via Getty Images)
Syed Rizwan Farook. (Photo by FBI via Getty Images)

Tashfeen Malik
The woman at the center of the shooting investigation is 29-year-old Tashfeen Malik, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia before she traveled to the United States to marry Farook last year.

According to authorities, it is Malik’s time at Bahauddin Zakariva University in Pakistan, where she studied pharmacology, that has come under particular scrutiny. The university is situated in a hotbed area for sectarianism and radicalization, according to The New York Times, and officials at the school have installed security cameras to try to prevent students from radicalizing one another in the residence halls.

Although faculty members described her to the Times as driven and studious, they also said she clearly the bore the marks of her conservative Muslim upbringing in Saudi Arabia. She did not feel comfortable living in dorms with other women and instead lived in a private house in the city, and wore a niqab at all times, they said.

A friend of Malik’s told The Sydney Morning Herald that she changed around 2009, becoming more interested in religion than pharmacology and attending a madrassa in the evenings. Malik’s distant family members told the Times that she went from dressing in a Western style to wearing more religious clothing after the family moved to Saudi Arabia.

“We were like, ‘What happened to Malik?’ ” Abida Rani, who attended school with Malik for six years, told the Herald. “She became so religious, so serious and so focused on Islamic teachings, and she lost her interest in her studies.”

Malik graduated and moved home in 2013, and met Farook via an online dating site. The pair married after Farook visited Saudi Arabia and arranged to have Malik come to the United States on a K1 or “fiancé” visa. They officially wed in the U.S. in Riverside, California, in August, 2014, according to the Herald, and lived in a townhouse in a residential neighborhood in Redlands where they had their first child together this summer.

They left the baby girl with her grandmother, Malik’s mother-in-law, last Wednesday before the shooting.

During the shooting, Malik allegedly used a cell phone to pledge her loyalty to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook, according to CNN. Investigators are still trying to determine if she was radicalized before or after she arrived in the United States.

A reporter inside the home of Syed Farookin Redlands, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Inside the home of Tashfeen Malik, Syed Farook and Rafia Farook in Redlands, California, a baby’s crib is seen. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rafia Farook: the shooter’s mother

The mother of Farook, Rafia Farook, lived with her son and his new wife in their Redlands home where Syed and Malik allegedly stockpiled weapons and ammunition.

She moved in with the couple following her divorce from Syed’s father, the elder Syed Farook, age 67. According to The New York Times, Rafia and Syed began divorce proceedings in 2006, during which Rafia complained that her husband was an alcoholic, mentally ill, and had violent episodes in which he screamed at his wife and children and threw things.

The elder Syed Farook gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Stampa in which he denied his ex-wife’s accusations and said that she was extremely religious and that Rafia and the younger Syed “united” against him. He said their religious extremism “destroyed the family.”

Attorneys representing Rafia Farook said she had been extensively questioned by the FBI, along with the gunman’s father and siblings, and that they had found no evidence of links to terrorism, according to the Mail Online.

Reporters inspect the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook in Redlands, California (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Reporters get a look inside the home of the San Bernardino shooting suspects. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Saira Khan and Eba Farook: the shooter’s sisters

When Syed Farook was filling out his online dating profile that led him to Tashfeen Malik, he noted that he enjoyed “doing target practice with younger sister and friends.”

His younger sister, Eba Farook, gave an interview to The New York Times following the shooting in which she wore jeans, a T-shirt, and no head covering, with her long hair falling to her shoulders. She told the Times that she and her sister were trying to be helpful to the investigation, and that initially when she had seen reports of the shooting, she feared that her brother could be a victim, not the gunman.

His older sister, Saira Khan, wore a head scarf to the interview and said she could not understand why her brother had done what he’d done.

“It’s harder for us to understand, especially knowing that he was our brother and he was so happy with her,” Khan told the Times, referring to Malik. “How can he leave his only child, you know? And how could the mother do this?”

Although the couple was very private, Khan told ABC News the idea of Malik pledging allegiance to ISIS was “shocking.”

“I have no idea who she is pledging allegiance to,” Khan said. “She’s never mentioned any political thing.”

Khan said she and her husband, Farhan Khan, hope to adopt the baby girl that Farook and Malik left behind. “At least she’ll have a stable upbringing” Khan said. “We want her to enjoy her innocence.”

The infant is currently in the custody of child protective services and federal authorities, according to ABC. A dependency hearing is expected to be held sometime this week to determine where the child will live in the short term.


Suspected gunwoman in San Bernardino shooting pledged allegiance to ISIS, officials say

Female suspect an unusual aspect in deadly California mass shooting