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FBI: San Bernardino attackers didn’t show public support for jihad on social media

FBI Director James Comey addressed the threat from the Islamic State at a press conference at the New York Police Department on Dec. 16. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Susan Walsh/Reuters)

NEW YORK — The two attackers who opened fire in San Bernardino, Calif., earlier this month had not posted publicly on social media sites about supporting jihad, FBI Director James B. Comey said Wednesday.

The husband-and-wife duo were “showing signs in their communication of their joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom” through private messages, rather than publicly visible postings, Comey said.

“Those communications are direct, private messages,” Comey said during a news conference here. “So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reporting on that, and that’s a garble.”

Comey’s comments about these private messages contradicted a report in the New York Times saying that one of the attackers “talked openly on social media” about violent jihad. His remarks also undermined assertions made during the Republican presidential debate Tuesday night that the government missed warning signs that could have prevented that same attacker from obtaining a visa.

[Before the final shootout, four mysterious hours in San Bernardino]

Comey had said earlier this month that Siyed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married couple who killed 14 people at an office holiday gathering, were communicating online in late 2013about jihad and martyrdom,” exchanging messages that predated the rise of the Islamic State. This communication also took place before Farook and Malik got engaged, married and then lived together in the United States. Comey declined to identify which social network the communication appeared on.

These messages are distinct from a note Malik posted on Facebook after the shooting pledging her allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the militant group that says it has established a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, according to law enforcement officials. Authorities say that posting was made on behalf of her husband as well.

The Times noted its earlier reporting about Malik’s remarks on social media in a story published online Wednesday about Comey’s statement on the private messages:

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Ms. Malik had talked openly about jihad on social media before she applied for a visa to come to the United States. While those remarks were made online, Mr. Comey said, they were “direct private messages” and not easily accessed. Nevertheless, the F.B.I. was able to obtain them in the days since the attacks.