Investigators probing the attack that left 14 people dead in a San Bernardino conference room are trying to determine whether the married couple who opened fire last week also left a bomb at the massacre scene with the hopes that the device would kill police officers, a source familiar with the investigation told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.
Sources also told The Times that the couple obtained a $28,500 cash loan just weeks before the deadly shootings, further suggesting that they had been planning the assault for some time.
The device found at the Inland Regional Center consisted of three bundled pipe bombs and remote-control car parts. The items were hidden inside a canvas bag left behind by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, according to San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan.
The build of the device is similar to the schematics for other crude explosives that often fill the pages of Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine, a newsletter often fawned over by radicals seeking guidance in planning attacks.
Police evacuated the area surrounding the regional center after they discovered the device last week.
The source, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about the ongoing investigation, said bomb technicians do not believe the device would have detonated. The building’s sprinkler system was set off during the shooting, and water damage could have caused the device to malfunction, according to the source.
The use of bombs to target first responders and rescuers is a common tactic among terrorist groups.
Two other sources told The Times that investigators believe Farook and Malik used a large cash loan to help acquire up to two rifles used in the attack, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition and parts for pipe bomb explosives found in the couple’s Redlands home hours after the assault.
Investigators believe the cash advances also would have helped explain how the couple managed to pay for a rental car and gun range target practice before the attack, considering Farook earned only $52,000 annually as a San Bernardino County health inspector. Malik was not employed.
“They also were renting a home and had a new baby,” one of the officials said.
The $28,500 loan came from WebBank.com, a Utah-based company. According to its website, WebBank is an FDIC-insured, state-chartered industrial lending institution headquartered in Salt Lake City. It was organized in 1997 and provides “niche financing to businesses and consumers.”
In a brief statement, the company said it would cooperate fully with any investigations, but said federal and state law prevented them from commenting on any specific loans.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and everyone else impacted by the tragedy in San Bernardino. WebBank evaluates all loan applications in accordance with legal requirements including U.S. anti-terrorism and anti-money-laundering laws,” the statement read. “In addition, the Bank continually works with regulators to address their inquiries and concerns and will fully cooperate with law enforcement agencies investigating this matter.”
Studies of the couple’s finances and intentions for the bomb device at the scene are part of the FBI’s vast attempts to determine how long Farook and Malik had been planning the attack and whether they had any ties to larger terror networks.
On Monday, the FBI said it appeared Farook and Malik had been self-radicalized “for quite some time,” and the cache of weapons and bomb-making equipment found inside the couple’s Redlands home suggested the attack was premeditated.
Federal investigators also have been trying to determine whether Farook was influenced by Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, a former Minneapolis resident known as “Mujahid Miski” who has served as a recruiter for Islamic State.
Hassan is believed to have encouraged the gunmen who attempted to storm a convention center in Texas earlier this year, where attendees had entered a contest to draw cartoon renditions of the prophet Muhammad.
Hassan surrendered to authorities in Somalia, where he had been hiding, on Monday, according to the U.S. State Department. He is in the custody of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency in Mogadishu, and U.S. officials are discussing his case with Somali government leaders, according to a State Department spokeswoman.
The U.S. and Somalia do not have an extradition treaty.
While the investigation reaches from California to Pakistan, where Malik was born, the police officers and firefighters who responded to the scene began to speak publicly about the hellish experience of walking through the massacre site and trying to rescue the wounded while fearing that the shooters were still stalking the scene.
“When we entered the room, I think we fully expected to take gunfire,” said Lt. Mike Madden of the San Bernardino Police Department.
As water rained down from the sprinklers overhead, pooling with the rivers of blood on the floor, medic Ryan Starling focused on his training. He got out his white tape.
The 33-year-old medic had just finished clearing the ground floor of the Inland Regional Center with his partners in the San Bernardino SWAT team.
Now he had returned to the conference room where two masked shooters had recently gone on a brutal shooting rampage, littering the floor with the bodies of more than two dozen victims.
Starling began rapidly moving from body to body to estimate who, in the precious little time he had, had a chance to survive.
“In five seconds, you look at their skin color, their breathing and you feel their pulse,” he said in an interview. “And by all those things you are determining if they are critical or deceased.”
As Starling progressed, he used a roll of white tape he carried to mark the dead, so he and other rescuers could focus their efforts on the living.
“I would put tape over the top of them so I don’t come back to the victims I already checked,” he said.
Staring and his unit had been training for such an incident just hours earlier. The team were conducting an active shooter drill at Arrowhead Springs, meaning they already had their gear on and prepared. The fact they were in a training session when the shooting happened cut their response time from 40 minutes to just 10.