Thursday, December 3, 2015
Here’s something to contemplate. If Wednesday’s carnage in San Bernardino turns out to have been the result of an international terrorist conspiracy, like the devastating attacks in Paris, Americans can rightly expect Congress and the president to work together to craft an immediate and decisive response. But if the killings turn out to have been rooted in a workplace dispute, well, don’t hold your breath.
The United States seems to view foreign-tied acts of terror through a different prism than the daily parade of mass shootings. Terrorism is a propelling fear, and the focus of billions of dollars in security measures, yet it is a relatively rare occurrence — presumably in large part because of the security measures. Yet mass shootings in the workplace, at school and at homes are taken as a given, a sad price to pay for our ability to own military-style guns.
Do we have our priorities wrong? Are we squarely facing the right threats?
The 9/11 terror attacks showed unequivocally that international terrorism poses a serious threat to the United States. But even though the deaths that result from decades ofeveryday mass shootings far exceed those from terrorism, they quickly become local issues. Mental health issues. Bad parenting issues. Everything but what they really are — a persistent and deadly threat to American citizens that has endured for years.
As President Obama pointed out after the killings of nine people at Umpqua Community College on Oct. 1, the nation has blinders when it comes to the threat among us.
“We spend over $1 trillion and pass countless laws and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so,” Obama said then. “And yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”
Obama was referring to NRA-propelled restrictions that have kept the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence as a public health issue, though that is exactly what that violence is. As has been widely reported, there have been more mass shootings — defined as those in which at least four people are wounded — than there have been days this year. Hours before the San Bernardino killings, someone killed one person and wounded three others in Savannah, Ga. Last week, on the same day that Robert Lewis Dear allegedly killed three people and wounded nine others in Colorado Springs, Colo. — a crime that few are talking about just days later — two people were killed and two others wounded in a shootout in a Sacramento restaurant.
Yet we do little. Except lament the tragedy, pray for the victims and bemoan the fact that nobody does anything.
This isn’t a call for overreaction. We need to carefully balance public safety needs with respect for civil liberties. But sensible gun control exists easily on that fulcrum. The law of the land, regrettably, is that the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution protects an individual’s right to own a gun. But not a blanket right to own any kind of gun, and the San Bernardino killings showed yet again the kind of fast, massive carnage that comes with firing military-style weapons with magazines of cartridges at defenseless victims. That such guns can be sold legally to civilians is an atrocious idea, and renewing the federal assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004 would be a good place to start attacking the problem.
Adopting sensible gun control measures is a prudent, necessary step even if it turns out the San Bernardino killings were an act of terrorism, or some sort of hybrid of religious extremism and workplace disgruntlement (the guns used reportedly were bought legally). And if the roots are in faith or foreign nations, the government should react deliberately, and with an eye on that balance between security and liberty. In the aftermath of the Paris shootings, political and social rhetoric reached an appalling low, with prominent American politicians suggesting a religious litmus test for who should be allowed refugee status. Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said he’d be open to the idea of keeping a database of Muslims in the country.
This is not where the nation should go. We need to look at the threats to our safety — all of them — wisely, and pursue policies that are proportionate to those threats. And make sure that, in the process, we don’t lose sight of who we are as a nation. But we must, indeed, act and not let this latest atrocity fade into memory.
The shooting spree in Southern California on Wednesday was the 353rd mass shooting in the United States in the past 336 days so far this year, according to a database that tracks mass shootings in the country.
This is how often shootings involving four or more people being shot but necessarily killed occurred in the United States this year, revealed the database shootingtracker.com based on compilations of news reports.
By that criteria, the tracker said Wednesday's shooting rampage at a San Bernardino social services center, which killed at least 14 people and injured 21 others, was the 353rd mass shooting so far this year.
On average, more than one mass shooting incident happened every day in the United States in 2015, the tracker showed.
The San Bernardino rampage, the worst so far in the year, also was the country's deadliest mass shooting since the Newtown, Connecticut, school tragedy three years ago that left 26 children and adults dead.
Many of the mass shooting incidents compiled by the tracker did not grab headlines and for those who did become a national breaking news, they soon sank into obscurity to new incidents.
The following are other high-profile mass shooting incidents which happened in 2015.
On Nov. 27, a gunman shot down three people and injured nine others at a family planning clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"We have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement after the incident.
"Period. Enough is enough," he said.
On Oct. 1, nine people were killed and nine more injured in a campus shooting at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon.
The gunman, 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer, was shot dead after an exchange of gunfire with police forces. After initial investigation, authorities said the Oregon gunman had a cache of 13 weapons, body armor and ammunition.
Hours after the shooting, grim-faced Obama slammed Congress and gun-rights lobby groups for obstructing reforms of gun control laws.
On June 17, nine people were killed at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina in what the authorities described as "a hate crime" by a white gunman.
After the incident, while calling for reforms of gun control policies in the United States, Obama also issued sharp remarks about ingrained racism in the country.
"The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on," Obama said in an interview with comedian Marc Maron for his popular podcast "WTF."
"We're not cured of it," said Obama. "Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened two to 300 years prior."
Following the 2012 school mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed 26 lives, including 20 children, the Obama administration initiated but failed to push stronger gun control laws.
The laws, whose sections included expanded background checks and bans on assault weapons, were stymied in Congress after staunch opposition from Republican lawmakers and gun-rights lobby groups.
During his presidency, Obama has been confronted with more than a dozen of high-profile mass shootings, and in an interview earlier this year he called the failure to reform U.S. gun laws "one of the greatest frustrations" of his presidency.
"If you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I've been most frustrated and most stymied, it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun safety laws, even in the face of repeated mass killings," Obama told BBC in an interview in July.
The United States has suffered its worst mass shooting in three years. The public debate has focused on lax gun laws, an epidemic of mass shootings and fears of Islamist terrorism after the Paris attacks.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Thursday was investigating whether the worst mass shooting in the United States in three years was a case of terrorism or workplace violence.
Two assailants clad in black tactical clothing opened fire Wednesday on a holiday party at a social services center in San Bernardino, California, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 20 others.
Police identified the perpetrators as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, his 27-year-old wife. Both died in a shootout with law enforcement after fleeing the scene in a black SUV. Farook and Malik were armed with two AR-15 style semi-automatic assault rifles as well as Llama and Smith & Wesson handguns.
"The two handguns were purchased by him, the rifles were not, but all four guns were legally purchased," Jarrod Burguan, the police chief of San Bernardino, told a press conference. "There's no criminal record that he had that we're aware of."
After the shootout, police found 1,400 rounds of .223 caliber ammunition and 200 rounds of 9mm ammunition. A sweep of the couple's home in Redlands, California turned up more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition as well as 12 pipe bombs and tools to construct explosive devices.
"Clearly they were equipped and could've continued to carry out another attack," Burguan said. "They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission," he said.
'No parallel in the world'
In the aftermath of the shooting, the public debate in the United States immediately turned to the epidemic of mass shootings that has gripped the nation.
The massacre in San Bernardino was the worst since 2012, when a lone gunman shot dead 20 children and six adult staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. President Barack Obama on Wednesday called for stricter gun laws in the aftermath of the tragedy in California.
"We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world," Obama told CBS News. "There are some steps that we could take not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don't happen as frequently."
'Rarely a singular motive'
There have been fears, just weeks after the attacks in Paris, that the massacre in San Bernardino was an act of Islamist terrorism.
Farook, an American of Pakistani descent, was described by a co-worker as a quiet man and devout Muslim who rarely talked about his religion, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Times reported that Farook met his future wife, Malik, online and traveled last year to Saudi Arabia to meet her. Malik was a Pakistani citizen.
The couple targeted the holiday party of the county health department, Farook's employer of five years, which had rented space at the social services center. Investigators are examining workplace issues as a possible motivation for the shootings.
"Human beings are very complex animals, they rarely do something for a singular motive," Michael German, an expert on national security and civil liberties at the Brennan Center for Justice, told Deutsche Welle.
Guns, mental health and ideology
There have been 295 mass killings in the United States since 2006, approximately one every two weeks, according to an investigation by USA Today. The FBI defines a mass killing as taking four lives or more. Statistics change based on terminology and definitions.
Mass killings are routinely perpetrated by lone shooters with personal issues. Two cases had known or alleged connections to Islamist extremism.
In 2009, Nidal Hasan, an army psychiatrist, opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people. Hasan was in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, the imam and American citizen who was later killed in a 2011 US drone strike in Yemen. Washington said al-Awlaki was an al Qaeda recruiter.
Hasan said he attacked Fort Hood to defend the leaders of the Taliban. The military classified the shooting as an act of workplace violence, not terrorism. According to US broadcaster NPR, military officials had expressed concerned about Hasan's mental health prior to the mass shooting at Fort Hood.
"You're going to have cases in which a personal motivation - dissatisfaction with a job, anger at the co-workers - mixes with more political, ideological reasons, " Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told DW.
In July of 2015, Mohammad Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old engineer, opened fire at a military recruiting center and a navy operations support center, killing four marines and a sailor. The case was investigated as an act of terrorism, though the FBI found no connections to Islamic State. Abdulazeez had substance abuse issues and received treatment for depression.
There was also an attack in Garland, Texas last May that was claimed by Islamic State. Two gunmen opened fire outside of an event displaying images of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. Both gunmen were shot dead by police. There were no other casualties.
Hasan bought his pistol legally. Abdulazeez bought some firearms legally and may have acquired others illegally, according to law enforcement. The FBI hasn't released information on the origins of the weapons in the Garland attack.
"It's America, it's easy to get guns," Lorenzo said. "Nothing is done on weapons."
'Treat all violence equally'
According to a June study by the New America Foundation, white supremacists and anti-government radicals have killed 48 people in the United States, while Islamist extremists have killed 26 since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Last week, Robert Dear opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at a Planned Parenthood Clinic, which provides health services to women, killing three people and wounding nine others. Dear was reportedly a self-professed Christian, staunchly opposed to abortion, described as disturbed and a recluse. Planned Parenthood performs abortions among a host of other medical procedures.
"Whether it's the act of a lone shooter, like the vast majority of mass shootings are, or the work of a white supremacist terrorist, or a left-wing terrorist, or a Muslim terrorist - that shouldn't really matter very much, but it seems to matter for everything in terms of what our response is," German said.
"We need to address all threats of violence equally and not emphasize one over another because that will end up creating flawed policies," he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at “part of the leadership in Turkey" during his annual address to the parliament, accusing Ankara of having trade ties with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq. He also promised more sanctions for Turkey over downing of the Russian jet.
Putin said Russia still cannot comprehend why the downing of the plane happened.
“We were prepared to cooperate with Turkey on most sensitive issues and go further than their allies. Allah knows why they did it. Apparently Allah decided to punish the ruling clique in Turkey by taking their sanity,” Putin said.
Putin stressed that Moscow’s anger over the incident is directed at particular individuals and not at the Turkish people.
“We have many friends in Turkey,” he said. “They should know that we do not equate them and part of the current Turkish leadership, which holds a direct responsibility for the deaths of our troops in Syria,” he said.
He added that the killing of Russian officers would have long-term consequences for those responsible.
“We will not forget this aid to terrorists. We have always considered betrayal the worst and most shameful act. Let those in Turkey know it who shot our pilots in the back, who hypocritically tries to justify themselves and their actions and cover up the crimes of terrorists,” he said.
Putin said Russia would not resort to saber-rattling to respond to the Turkish actions, but neither would it limit itself to the economic sanctions it imposed since the incident.
The incident with the Russian Su-24 bomber shot down by Turkish warplanes near the Turkish-Syrian border has greatly deteriorated relations between the two countries. Turkey insists it acted in response to a brief violation of its airspace and was justified in using lethal force. Russia insists no violation took place and has accused Turkey of supporting terrorists in Syria.
The downing of the bomber resulted in the deaths of two Russian troops, who were the first combat losses during the two month-long Syrian campaign. The pilot of the downed plane was killed by a pro-Turkish militant group as he was parachuting to the ground. A marine was killed by militants when a helicopter dispatched to rescue the bomber crew came under fire from the ground.
Putin’s address started with a minute’s silence to commemorate the two troops. The widows of the dead Russians were present at the event.
Putin stressed that the Russian operation in Syria is aimed first and foremost at preventing fighters who went to the Middle East from Russia and its neighboring countries from returning home and bringing the threat of terrorist attacks to Russian soil.
"They are getting money, weapons, gathering strength. If they get stronger, winning there, they will inevitably come here to sow fear and hatred, blast, kill and torture people," Putin said.
Putin called on all nations that have pledged to fight terrorism to join forces and abandon the notion that terrorist groups can be used for country’s own goals. He stressed that the rise of terrorism in the Middle East over the last few years was caused to a large degree by foreign meddling.
“Some countries in the Middle East and North Africa, which used to be stable and relatively prosperous – Iraq, Libya, Syria – have turned into zones of chaos and anarchy that pose a threat to entire world,” Putin said.
“We know why it happened. We know who wanted to oust unwanted regimes, and rudely impose their own rules. They triggered hostilities, destroyed statehoods, set people against each other and simply washed their hands [of the situation] – giving way to radicals, extremists and terrorists.”
Russia’s lost thousands of lives over two decades of terrorist attacks and is still not safe from terrorist attacks, as evidenced by the bombings in Volgograd in 2014 and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt in October, Putin reminded.
“Breaking the bandits’ back took us almost 10 years,” he said. “We practically pushed the terrorists out of Russia, but we are still engaged in a fierce fight against the remainder of the gangs. This evil still comes back occasionally.”
Putin said the rise of jihadists in the Middle East in our time is not unlike the rise of Nazism in the mid-20th century, and that the world should learn from the mistakes of the past, when a failure to act in time resulted in the loss of millions of lives.
“We are facing a destructive barbaric ideology again and we have no right to allow those new obscurants to achieve their goals. We have to abandon all differences, create a single fist, a single anti-terrorist front, which would act in accordance with the international law and under the aegis of the United Nations,” he said.
Putin was speaking on Thursday before the Federal Assembly, a joint session of the two chambers of the Russian parliament, plus regional governors and the cabinet. The annual address is a traditional key policy report of the executive, which focuses on domestic politics rather than international relations.
‘Business as usual’ with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now over, Sergey Ivanov, the head of Putin’s office, confirmed to RT after the Russian president’s address:
“Yes, it is definitely over. But fighting terrorism is ‘business as usual’, as the Russian president said,” Ivanov said.
The Turkish leadership “must acknowledge that a tragic mistake was committed and to beg for [forgiveness], or this leadership will not play any significant role in bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey. We will not be able to have any ties with Turkey under this leadership if it doesn’t change its attitude,” Konstantin Kosachev, the chair of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Relations, told RT.
By MICHAEL A. MEMOLI
Hillary Clinton expressed sorrow Thursday over the “terrible” shooting attacks in San Bernardino and called for renewed international cooperation to combat extremism, though she cautioned that the motive behind the rampage was still unknown.
“I want people to feel safe. If you go to the store, or you go to work, you go to the movies, you go to church, you take your kid to school — you should be safe,” Clinton said after a campaign-trail tour of a pin factory in Nashua, N.H.
Acknowledging that President Obama has said terrorism could not be ruled out as a motive for the massacre that killed 14, Clinton reflected on the prowess that terrorist networks like Islamic State have demonstrated in spreading their views online.
“We have to fight them in the air, we have to fight the on the ground and we have to fight them in cyberspace,” she said. “They’re so good on the Internet. They’re good at recruiting; they’re good at propaganda. They are good at even inciting acts of violence.”
Clinton said it was critical to lead the world in working to prevent “the kind of attacks we’ve been seeing,” she told reporters, though it was not immediately clear whether she was referring still to the San Bernardino shooting.
Amid the caustic political rhetoric over gun control, as well as the U.S. strategy to combat Islamic State, Clinton bemoaned negativity at a time she said we should “start acting like one nation again.”
“We’ve got too many disagreements, too much division, and people are being kind of negative. And there’s nothing we can’t do if we get our focus together, if we start working with people again,” she said. “We’re going to have differences. But there’s got to be a way to end some of the hot rhetoric and the negative attitudes that people are spewing forth.”
#CaliforniaShooting - San Bernardino shooting suspects raised few red flags before 'horrendous' crime
By Rory Carroll in San Bernardino, Paul Lewis in San Francisco, Peter Walker and Nadia Khomami in London, and Tom Dart in Riverside, California
Syed Rizwan Farook seemed to have so much going for him, a colleague said he was “living the American dream”.
Young and fit with a good job, a new bride and a newborn baby, the 28-year-old environmental health specialist appeared to be putting down roots in San Bernardino.
He had no criminal record, no known ties to religious or political radicalism. Colleagues at the San Bernardino County public health department said Farook was quiet and polite. Earlier this year they threw a baby shower for him and his partner, Tashfeen Malik.
But on Thursday, with 14 victims in the morgue and 21 wounded, and police sifting through an arsenal of ammunition and apparent bomb-making equipment at the couple’s home, it was clear something had gone terribly wrong.
“We still don’t have a motive,” the city’s police chief, Jarrod Burgua, told a news conference.
However pieces of the puzzle, indicating a possible mix of personal and ideological motives, did begin to emerge.
Law enforcement sources told CNN that Farook, who was born in Illinois but had Pakistani heritage, was in touch with people being investigated by the FBI for international terrorism. This could not be independently verified by the Guardian.
Until Wednesday’s atrocity, neither he nor Malik was known to the FBI or on a list of potentially radicalised people. Investigators poring through his records said Farook communicated by phone and via social media with more than one person being investigated for terrorism, said CNN, citing law enforcement officials.
The second red flag was that he had encountered possible problems at work. Some witnesses said Farook left early from the Christmas luncheon party at the Inland Regional Center after an angry altercation. “There was some type of dispute,” Burguan said.
However, that does not account for the preparation for the assault: black tactical-style clothing; assault rifles, handguns, pipe bombs; and a remote-controlled explosive device placed in the black SUV the couple had rented several days earlier.
Griselda Reisinger, a colleague who left the department several months ago, told the LA Times there was a fraught atmosphere at work, with many workers unhappy with management.
The motives of anyone who plans a mass shooting are necessarily murky and complex. But the actions of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik seem more incomprehensible still.
In one of the most jarring details to emerge in the aftermath of the shooting, it is now known that the couple, who died in a gunfight with police, began their day by leaving their six-month-old daughter with Farook’s mother.
Hussam Ayloush, who heads the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, said Farook, 28, and Malik, 27, said they were going to a doctor’s appointment. Farook’s mother became worried when she heard reports about the shooting and tried to call the couple without success.
Ayloush helped organise an impromptu press conference by Farook’s brother-in-law, Farhan Khan, who told reporters he was utterly baffled at what had happened. “I have no idea why would he do that,” Khan said. “I have absolutely no idea. I am in shock myself.”
Speaking to CNN, Ayloush said Farook’s family told him they “had no clue that this could happen”. He said: “The suspect is married, has a six-month-old baby. They have no reason [about] what made him snap. Was it workplace related? Is it mental illness? Is it some twisted ideology? It is really unknown to us. All they [the family] can do is share with everybody sorrow and prayers.”
Ayloush added: “The family is devastated, like all Americans. This is the time for us to express solidarity among all of us Americans in rejecting whatever the motives might have been. There is absolutely no justification for such horrendous behaviour.”
Farook, it emerged, had a passion for guns. In a badly spelled dating profile on the site iMilap.com published about six years ago he mentioned several hobbies, including shooting.
“Enjoy working on vintage and modern cars, read religios books, enjoy eating out sometimes travel and just hang out in back yard doing target pratice with younger sister and friends.”
But before Wednesday, the couple appeared utterly ordinary to those who knew them. Farook had worked at the county health department for five years, with online records indicating he earned about $70,000 (£46,000) a year. He is listed online as an environmental health specialist for San Bernardino County and is believed to have lived locally. He recently wrote an inspection report on a Mexican restaurant in Rialto.
While police said they were unsure whether the pair were engaged or married, reports said they had been married for two years.
Farook visited Saudi Arabia for several weeks in 2013 on the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime. During the trip he met Malik, a native of Pakistan. Said to be a pharmacist, she reportedly came to the United States on a “fiancée visa” and became a lawful permanent resident.
Patrick Baccari, a fellow health inspector who shared a cubicle with Farook, told the LA Times that the couple appeared to be “living the American dream”.
Farook graduated from California State University with a degree in environmental health in 2009, Heavy reports.
According to court filings, Farook and his siblings sometimes found themselves caught in the middle of violent domestic disputes involving his mother, Rafia, and his 66-year-old father, also named Syed. Rafia filed for legal separation in 2008.
Court filings in 2006 and 2008 show that Rafia filed restraining orders against the elder Syed, describing him as a mentally ill, unstable alcoholic on medication who “threatens to kill himself on a daily basis”. She requested he be ordered to stay away from the family home in Riverside, about a half-hour drive south of the shooting scene in San Bernardino.
The filings allege that the children witnessed several violent episodes. In one incident in February 2008, she claimed: “Syed had a fight with my son and me and he got drunk. I called at 6am to his brother in Chicago and I said he threatening to kill himself [sic]. His brother called the police from Chicago and the police was at my house at 5am and they put him in the county hospital for 72 hours observation.” It was unclear which brother this referred to.
The elder Farook lived with the shooter’s brother, a business taxes representative for the California State Board of Equalization, in Corona, 30 miles south of San Bernardino.