California Muslims speak out against 'horrific' San Bernardino shooting
California's Muslim community expressed its horror on Wednesday at a mass shooting that killed at least 14 in San Bernardino, after a local Muslim man was widely identified as a suspect.
Syed Farook, 28, a US citizen who worked for the town's health department, is believed to have been killed in a shootout with police hours after opening fire inside a Christmas party at a local social services centre for the disabled.
Tashfeen Malik, 27, who police say could be Farook's wife or fiancee, was also killed in the shootout with police and is believed to have been linked to the California mass killing, in which 17 others were also injured.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said its members "unequivocally condemn the horrific act that happened today".
"The Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence," he added in a statement.
Members of the Arab and Muslim communities in the US have said they feared backlash following the attack, and one organisation will meet officials with the Department of Homeland Security on Friday to assess safety measures.
"There absolutely is a fear that there could be a backlash and that's the reality we live in," said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a civil rights group that will hold the talks.
Ayoub said that while there had been no reports of attacks in retaliation, it was essential for the community to remain vigilant.
"We need to stay cautious given the atmosphere and what happened in Paris a few weeks ago and the fallout from that," he said, referring to the terror attacks in France that left 130 people dead and were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
Authorities have drawn no connection between the attack and groups like IS at this stage in the investigation.
David Bowdich, the assistant director or the FBI, has drawn ire for saying this was not a terrorist attack.
"I know one of your questions will be 'is this a terrorist incident?' I will tell you right now, we do not know if this is a terrorist incident," Bowdich told reporters. "We start from the beginning, working with our local partners. We take the presumption that it may be or it may not be."
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said at a press conference early on Thursday that Farook had attended the party but left early “under circumstances described as angry or something of that nature”.
The killing is the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre three years ago when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members.
The incident comes at a fraught time in the US, where many state senators are trying to resist government-led refugee resettlement programme for Syrian refugees fleeing a bloody almost five-year conflict in which more than 250,000 people have been killed.
Farook's brother-in-law, Farhan Kahn, came forward at the press conference to voice his shock at the notion that Farook could have committed mass murder.
"I have no idea why he would do that," a visibly shaken Khan told reporters, adding that he had last spoken with Farook about a week ago.
"I am in shock that something like this could happen," said Khan, who is married to Farook's sister. "I am very sad that people lost their lives."
Farook's father, quoted by the New York Daily News tabloid, described his son as a devout Muslim.
"He was very religious. He would go to work, come back, go to pray, come back. He's Muslim."
Muzammil Siddiqi, the religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, also condemned the killings saying they were contrary to the teachings of Islam.
"We have condemned all violence everywhere because human life is precious," he said. "And we respect and honor human life."
Their motive remains unclear, but Imam Mahmood Nadvi, of the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah mosque in San Bernardino, said he did not believe they were Islamic extremists.
"We never saw a sign of radicalisation," Nadvi, 39, said a day after the attacks. He added that the mosque had received a threatening message on its voicemail hours after the attack and has asked police to provide additional security ahead of Friday prayers.
According to local news reports, Farook was employed by the San Bernardino County health department, which is believed to have organised the party at the Inland Regional Centre.
The attack on the party triggered a massive manhunt that ended when police shot dead two heavily armed suspects on a quiet residential street.