Were The San Bernardino Shooters Inspired By ISIS?

According to CNN, anonymous U.S. officials have claimed that investigators believe at least one of the San Bernardino shooters may have pledged allegiance to ISIS. The details are very scant at the moment, but they reportedly believe that the female half of the husband-and-wife duo, Tashfeen Malik, may have uploaded a post to Facebook pledging allegiance to the terrorist group's leader, Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi, while the attacks were playing out in real time. However, the sources told CNN that the Facebook post in question came from an account other than Malik's, and they reportedly offered no explanation for how or why they believe she authored it.

They also reportedly gave no indication that the attack was actually planned, advised, or overseen by ISIS in any way, however — an anonymous law enforcement official told CNN that the case looked like one of "self-radicalization."

Also, as The New York Times detailed, Malik — along with her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook — tried to delete their electronic history in the days leading up to the deadly attack, leading investigators to suspect that the shooting was premeditated, and that the couple was trying to erase its tracks as the fateful day grew nearer.

As always, it's important to keep some perspective in times like these. While the authorities apparently believe ISIS' ideology played a role in inspiring the San Bernardino shootings — which left a staggering 14 people dead, and 21 more injured — they've made no direct operational connections. That said, news of the attacks were obviously well-received by the militant group, with ISIS sympathizers on the Internet responding with apparent glee after the news broke.

ISIS did not, however, officially claim responsibility for the action, like it did in the immediate aftermath of the bloody, tightly orchestrated terrorist attacks in Paris, France last month. This would appear to add some credence to the notion of "self-radicalization," assuming the surrounding claims of these anonymous officials are accurate — ISIS stands to gain from everyone knowing when they're behind an attack, and they'd surely leap at the chance to reveal they'd planned something within the United States, if indeed they had.


Needless to say, the ongoing investigation into the motives of the two San Bernardino shooters could yield a very fraught situation. The United States is already in the midst of an unsophisticated, nuance-lacking public conversation about terrorism, and in particular, our obligation to welcome some 10,000 beleaguered Syrian refugees to our shores in 2016.

Of course, neither of the San Bernardino shooters were Syrian — Farook was an American citizen, and Malik reportedly hailed from Saudi Arabia. But if there's any one thing that's been laid pretty bare in the past few months, it's that the fear terrorism conjures can lead American office-holders down some pretty dark roads, whether through earnest panic, or blatant political calculation.