During a broadcast on its official radio network Saturday, militant terror group ISIS claimed the suspected San Bernardino mass shooters were "supporters" of the Islamic State movement. The declaration came just days after Tashfeen Malik and husband Syed Rizwan Farook allegedly entered the premises of a social services center and opened fire using an arsenal of semi-automatic handguns and rifles, at least two of which had been modified to fire in automatic mode, according to reports by the ATF on Thursday. The attack left 14 people dead and an additional 21 injured.
In their claim on Saturday, ISIS leaders called the couple "martyrs" adding, "We pray to God to accept them as martyrs." CNN quickly pointed out that the language used to describe the couple could potentially indicate that the terrorist group itself played no major role in the mass shooting, but was instead attempting to claim partial credit.
"ISIS used the word 'supporters,' which differs from its previous references to 'knights' or 'soldiers,'" explained CNN international producer Yousuf Basil, digital editor Faith M. Karimi and reporter Jason Hanna in a post on Saturday, arguing that the slight change in terminology likely meant the group had not issued any direct orders. "ISIS has consistently urged supporters to carry out lone wolf attacks, and the couple may have been answering a vague, general call."
In the past, ISIS has relied on pledges from foreign fighters to carry out unofficial attacks on overseas locations, such as the deadly string of attacks in Paris, France this past November. Radicals plan their agenda, execute, and then declare allegiance later. That system has largely worked for the terrorist group, which as The Atlantic's Graeme Wood pointed out in March this year, must control large swaths of territory in the Middle East to uphold any real power it currently wields.
This sort of "trickle down" terrorism lends itself perfectly to lone wolf attacks, such as the tragic mass shooting in San Bernardino on Wednesday. These isolated fighters are often bolstered by social media propaganda (on which the group seems to have a firm handle) or trained briefly on the ground in places like Syria, where ISIS is currently waging a battle of popularity with rival groups Jabhat al-Nusra and Khorasan. While top ISIS brass have their hands full with in-fighting and regional power-struggle, they can then leave the radicalized devotees to organize their own limited incursions.
On Friday, a San Bernardino law enforcement source speaking with NBC News claimed that suspected shooter Malik had pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a Facebook post, "just prior" to the attack, although Facebook removed the post before it could be shared.
"We are aware of the Facebook post and we're looking into it," said David Bowdich, head of the Los Angeles FBI office, in a press conference on Friday. He added that the FBI had found "no indication that these killers are part of an organized larger group or form part of a cell" and that there was "nothing in [the FBI terror database]" on them.