Was The San Bernardino Shooting Terrorism? It's Possible, But It Depends On The Shooters' Motive

Update: On Wednesday, Dec. 2, a shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California left 14 people dead and 21 wounded. Hours after the attack, police pursued information that led to a chase of a dark SUV, which was later determined to be a rental car. A shootout between police and the suspects left both suspects dead. They were identified as Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, who were husband and wife.

According to SBPD Chief Jarrod Burguan, the four guns used in the shooting were purchased legally. The suspects were found to have 1,600 rounds of ammunition with them, and at a home they were renting in Redlands, California, law enforcement officers found 4,500 rounds of ammunition and 12 pipe bombs. No official motive has been confirmed, though a source told The Los Angeles Times that investigators are considering that it might be terrorism or workplace-related.

Earlier: Pipe bombs, assault rifles — these are items we often associate with terrorism. On Wednesday, they were involved in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, which killed at least 14 people and injured 17 others. As of Wednesday night, police had not commented on a motive, but it seems like they haven't ruled out the possibility that the shooting was an act of terrorism.

The violence broke out around 11 a.m. local time, when multiple gunmen attacked a social services facility which was hosting a holiday party for employees of a city department. The shooters were armed with assault rifles and dressed in "assault-style" clothing, according to police. Police later pursued suspects in a black SUV, which led to a shootout that wounded one police officer and killed two suspects.

So far, law enforcement sources have confirmed to The Los Angeles Times the identity of the deceased male suspect: Syed Farook. Farook was an American citizen, and it's possible that he worked for the department hosting the holiday party. Some witnesses reported seeing Farook at the party before he left abruptly, following an argument. If that's the case, then the shooting could be an example of workplace violence.

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Still, police haven't ruled out terrorism. During a news briefing Wednesday afternoon, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan declined to comment on a motive, but indicated that terrorism was still part of the conversation: "We have no information at this point to indicate that this is terrorist-related, in the traditional sense that people may be thinking. Obviously, at a minimum, we have a domestic terrorist-type situation that occurred here.”

Terrorism by definition usually includes violence that is motivated by political beliefs. For instance, the recent attacks in Paris were easily labeled as terrorism because they were motivated by extremist beliefs in the rule of Islam. This is the sort of violence that groups like ISIS carry out. A source claiming to be Farook's father reported that Farook was "very religious," and that he was Muslim. That's not to say that Farook, if he was indeed a shooter, was motivated by his religion or political ideology. As with all aspects of the tragic situation, it's important not to speculate without confirmation from law enforcement officials.

Without understanding the shooters' motive, it's impossible to know whether or not Wednesday's shooting was truly an act of terrorism. According to witness reports, it's possible that the shooting was motivated by a preexisting workplace dynamic. Still, there's no doubt that it has sparked fear and questions throughout the country.