Today in Terrorism: December 2, 2015 – Attack in San Bernardino, California

We usually associate marriage with the phrase “till death do us part”: this couple took the words literally.

When most of us think of terrorism we usually, or at least I think we usually, imagine a male perpetrator (or several male perpetrators). Females do undertake attacks once in a while and there are now some very good academic books on this (one by fellow Canadian Joana Cook is recommended).

While females may rarely become active terrorists, they are not limited to operational roles. In my time at CSIS I saw several cases where women supported their terrorist husbands although I cannot, for what I hope are obvious reasons, provide details.

Even more rarely there are cases of husband and wife terrorist cells. Think Bonnie and Clyde, except that instead of criminal action they engage in terrorist acts (were Bonnie and Clyde married?).

Bonnie and Clyde (Photo: Der Spiegel)
Women as terrorists

Our difficulties in imagining women as terrorists may stem from the stereotype that they are life givers not life takers. They have primary responsibility for raising children, for example.

So what would you think of a mother who drops her six-month old daughter at her mother-in-law’s then goes with her husband to carry out an attack? Impossible? Meet Tafsheen Malik.

The deadly couple (Photo: New York Times)
2015 San Bernardino attack

She and her better half Syed Rizwan Farook went to a Christmas party at A San Bernardino social services center on this day in 2015 with several weapons and opened fire. When they were done 15 people were dead and 22 seriously wounded. They in turn were killed by police four hours later.

The FBI labeled the incident a ‘domestic terrorist act influenced by foreign terrorist organisations’. The couple had been to Saudi Arabia before their act – hmm, interesting.

The getaway vehicle after the pair were shot dead (Photo: New York Times)
Carefully planned assault

This was a carefully planned assault. As a police spokesperson noted: “they wore masks and body armour… they were dressed and equipped in a way that indicates they were prepared.”

At the time the loss of life was the largest in the US from a terrorist attack since 9/11: that record was shattered six months later in Orlando (to be featured in a future ‘Today in Terrorism’ piece).

What kind of a mom leaves her infant daughter to take innocent lives? What kind of a man supports that decision? How does a four-year old live with the fact that her parents left her an orphan?

Terrorists are often inhuman: San Bernardino is a case in point.