Federal authorities say they have discovered connections between a friend of the San Bernardino attacker charged with conspiring to carry out other attacks with him and a group of men arrested years earlier in California as part of a different plot.
This comes after the FBI had said in the weeks after the Dec. 2 rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., that they found no evidence of any ties between husband-and-wife attackers and a group of men arrested in 2012 and charged with plotting to travel to Afghanistan to kill American soldiers.
Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, opened fire inside a company holiday party in December, killing 14 people before dying hours later in a shootout with police. Authorities later said Malik pledged allegiance to the head of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in a posting on Facebook after the attack.
Investigators have since sought to determine whether the couple had any other accomplices or connections to other groups, an issue that FBI Director James Comey highlighted in arguing for why the bureau needed to access Farook’s locked iPhone. Law enforcement officials have said the iPhone, which was eventually unlocked, has not revealed any connections to foreign terrorists. Comey has also said authorities believe the attackers were inspired by foreign terrorist groups.
Weeks after the attack, authorities arrested Enrique Marquez Jr., a former neighbor of Farook’s, and charged him with plotting to carry out other attacks in 2011 and 2012.
Farook and Marquez had put together detailed plans for the attacks, according to the FBI. In one plot, they discussed attacking the heavily-trafficked Route 91 by throwing pipe bombs into the road to stop traffic and then shooting at trapped motorists and first responders alike. In another, the FBI alleges that they talked about going to Riverside City College — a community college both had attended — and hurling pipe bombs into the cafeteria.
Federal authorities say Marquez bought the guns later used in the San Bernardino attack during this plotting and purchased explosive material later used to build the pipe bomb found at the scene of the December rampage. Prosecutors have said there is no evidence Marquez had any knowledge of the San Bernardino attack before it happened.
The attacks plotted by Farook and Marquez were never carried out, and according to the criminal complaint filed against Marquez, he told authorities that “he distanced himself from Farook and ceased plotting with him after 2012 for a variety of reasons, including the arrest of Ralph Deleon and others on material support charges in November 2012.” All four men later pleaded guilty.
Around the time of Marquez’s arrest in December, Comey said investigators had not found any evidence suggesting that Farook had any connections to these men. But in a court filing Tuesday, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles revisited the allegations that Farook and Marquez had been plotting attacks together and drew a connection.
During the window when he plotted with Farook, “Marquez had ties to a group of jihadists … who were arrested in 2012,” the filing states. After these men were arrested, it continues, “Marquez distanced himself from Farook.”
The filing does not elaborate on what these ties are or when federal authorities discovered them. An FBI official said Wednesday that investigators believed Marquez and these men did not have direct connections.
“The FBI thoroughly investigated the alleged connections between Enrique Marquez and the four individuals arrested for the 2012 terror plot and concluded there were no direct ties to any of the four,” the official said in a statement.
An attorney for Marquez did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
This information was included in a court document filed Tuesday by federal prosecutors who say they want to seize payments on life insurance policies Farook took out years earlier, arguing that the money should be forfeited because it stemmed from terrorism.
The policies, worth a total of $275,000, designated his mother as the primary beneficiary in case he died, the civil forfeiture filing states. Prosecutors say Farook’s death in the shootout with police triggered payments from these policies.
“Terrorists must not be permitted to provide for their designated beneficiaries through their crimes,” Eileen M. Decker, the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, said in a statement. “My office intends to explore every legal option available to us to ensure these funds are made available to the victims of this horrific crime. We will continue to use every tool available to seek justice on behalf of the victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks.”
In the new filing, prosecutors say that Farook set up the life insurance policies after he had already begun plotting attacks, highlighting how he and Marquez began discussing plans as early as 2011. Farook and Malik began communicating online about “jihad and martyrdom” the following year, the FBI said.
The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California says that in 2012, Farook got a life insurance policy with a $25,000 death benefit through his job working for San Bernardino County. Prosecutors say he got also a supplemental policy worth $250,000 in 2013.
Under federal law, any asset “derived from” terrorism is subject to forfeiture. Prosecutors argued in their filing Tuesday that money stemming from Farook’s life insurance policy fit this bill because Farook’s death during the attack is what sparked these payments. Prosecutors say they are seeking all money, as well as benefits and interest, stemming from Farook’s two policies.
An attorney for Rafia Farook was not immediately listed in court records.
Since the attack, police arrested and charged Farook’s brother, Syed Raheel Farook, as well as Raheel’s wife and sister, charging them all with marriage fraud. Raheel’s sister-in-law is married to Marquez, and authorities have alleged that their marriage was a sham designed to get her immigration benefits.
This story has been updated. First published: 11:20 a.m.