Nearly a week after the attacks in San Bernardino, the picture of the attackers and what drove them remains murky. The husband-and-wife team of Syed Rizwan Farook, an American citizen, and Tashfeen Malik, a permanent resident who FBI officials said pledged loyalty to the Islamic State on Facebook shortly before the shootings, were both killed fleeing the scene and are now the subject of an evolving investigation into the impetus for their radical act. At a news conference on Monday, David Bowdich, the assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, told reporters that the pair had been “radicalized” for “quite some time” but “the question for us is how and by whom and where were they radicalized? Maybe there’s not a ‘by whom.’ Remember, oftentimes it’s on the Internet. We just don’t know.”
The FBI has not found evidence so far of an internationally coordinated plot, which raises the specter of homegrown jihadist terrorism—a category that President Obama, in his address to the nation on Sunday, pointed to as part of a “new phase” in the terrorist threat, one that preoccupied policymakers for years before the rise of ISIS. For example, the 2009 shooting in Fort Hood, Texas—until last week the deadliest jihadist attack on American soil since 9/11—was perpetrated by the Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, who had tried multiple times to communicate via the Internet with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam and al-Qaeda leader later killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. But it’s not clear Awlaki knew who Hasan was until after the shooting, which he praised on his website. In other words, rather than being actively groomed by al-Qaeda, Hasan may have been “self-radicalized,” seeking out ideological inspiration himself as opposed to being a passive recipient of extremist propaganda.