President hints at terrorism, but says 'mixed motive' could have prompted shooting

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Police officers conduct a manhunt after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Dec. 2, 2015. Gunmen opened fire on a holiday party on Wednesday at a social services agency in the city, killing 14 people and wounding 17 others, then fled the scene, triggering an intense manhunt and a shootout with police, authorities said. President Obama has said that the incident was terrorism is "possible." | REUTERS/Mike Blake

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – President Barack Obama said from the Oval Office in the White House today that the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, that claimed the lives of 14 people and wounded at least 17 others Dec. 2 may have been terrorism, but he said it was still too early to say for sure.

"It is possible that this was terrorist related, but we don't know. It's also possible that this was workplace-related," President Obama said. He also said it was possible that "mixed motives" led to the attack, which members of the Islamic State have praised on social media.

Obama said he would wait to render judgment on what type of attack occurred "until the FBI is able to conduct what is going to be a large number of interviews, until we understand the nature of the workplace relationship between the individual and his superiors, because he worked with the organization where this shooting took place, and until all the social media and electronic information has been exploited."

Little is known at this point about the association between any terror network and the shooting suspects in San Bernardino, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27. Farook, however, had recently traveled to Saudi Arabia.

Hours after the shooting, police acting on a tip about Farook, were waiting at a house associated with the suspect in neighboring Redlands, California, when they observed a dark-colored SUV matching the description of the get-away car from the shooting near the scene. They gave chase and the pursuit ended with a shootout which claimed the lives of both Farook, employed by the county as a restaurant inspector, and Malik, apparently still a Saudi national.

The couple had what law enforcement officers deemed "roll out bags" filled with explosives and ammunition in their vehicle, indicating they had likely planned more violence for later in the day.

Police acting on a search warrant at Farook's home also discovered numerous explosive devices with remote controls used with toy cars. That method of detonating explosives has been linked to al-Qaeda and was also the same method used by the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Police later described Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev as "home grown" terrorists.

President Obama's measured response to the San Bernardino attack differs significantly from the way he and his administration handled the Fort Hood shooting more than six years ago. On Nov. 5, 2009, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist, entered a deployment preparation center on the base and fatally shot 13 people and wounded more than 30 others before being shot by a Fort Hood police officer.

That incident was quickly classified by the president as an instance of "workplace violence," but information soon surfaced that Hasan had been in communication with radical Islamist imam Anwar Al-Awlaki. The president ordered a U.S.-led drone strike on Al-Awlaki in 2011, making him the first U.S. citizen killed by the United States itself for his role in terrorism. Al-Awlaki, though born in Las Cruces, N.M., was a member of al-Qaeda.

Hasan, paralyzed from the neck down when he was shot, also made his affinity for radical Islamists public during his court martial proceedings. Hasan was convicted and is awaiting execution.

The Obama administration continued to classify the incident at Fort Hood as "workplace violence" until Congress acted in 2014 and made those wounded eligible for the Purple Heart, a medal earned by soldiers engaged in the theater of combat. Those medals were awarded in 2015.

In this case, as opposed to the "workplace violence" description floated in 2009 at Fort Hood, Obama said his administration would be "vigilant as we always are in getting the facts before we issue any decisive judgement about how this occurred."

Obama also took the opportunity to discuss guns and gun violence. He said Americans are disturbed by the prevalence of mass shootings in society.

"I think so many Americans sometimes feel as if there is nothing we can do about it. We are fortunate to have an extraordinary combination of law enforcement, intelligence and military who work every single day to keep us safe. But we just can't leave it to our professionals to deal with the problem of these kinds of horrible killings. We all have a part to play. As the investigation moves forward, it is going to be important for all of us, including our legislatures, to see what we can do," Obama said.

Obama said when someone is intent on doing harm, "we have to make it a little harder for them to do it, because right now it's just too easy. We're going to have to search ourselves as a society to take the basic steps that would make it harder – not impossible – for individuals to get access to weapons."

In spite of the criticism many Republican candidates and other politicians have received for saying they were praying for the victims of the attack, the president said his "first order of business" was to pray for the victims and their families.