San Bernardino updates

All three shooters in today’s attack are either dead (two of them) or in custody (the other one), but police are working slowly (for safety reasons) to search their dwellings, cars, and the like, so it will still be a while before much is known. The prime suspect is a US citizen named Syed Farook, and the other shooters were an unidentified woman (who is one of the two who were killed) and a man who may have been Farook’s brother. There is a Syed Farook who works for the San Bernardino County Health Department, the group that appears to have been the target of the shooting, but it hasn’t been firmly established that they’re the same person (though it seems pretty clear that they are).

Obviously the suspect’s name, and his religion, are going to cause people to attribute the shooting to jihadi terrorism (and the FBI has kind of walked back some earlier statements that seemed to discount jihadi terrorism as a motive). And at this point that’s as strong a possibility as anything else. There’s no particular political significance to shooting up a party full of country health workers in a facility for the developmentally disabled, but then there’s no particular political significance to shooting up a nightclub, or a beach resort, or a shopping mall, or random targets throughout a big city, and yet terrorists have attacked those kinds of places in France, Tunisia, Kenya, and India, and the political significance wasn’t about the specific site as much as it was about the countries in which those sites were located.

Farook was reportedly at the holiday party, but left suddenly, perhaps after “acting nervously” and/or arguing with someone else there, according to police dispatches that were broadcast while the incident was ongoing. This raises the possibility that it was workplace violence, but if that’s the case then there are many more questions that need to be answered. These shooters had assault rifles, wore what appeared to be tactical gear, and were apparently carrying improvised explosive devices, which suggests a level of planning that doesn’t support a pure “heat of the moment” workplace shooting scenario (which is not to say that it wasn’t a planned workplace shooting). The shooters’ initial “escape,” which seemed to suggest that they weren’t jihadi terrorists, was followed by their return to the scene (that’s how they were eventually caught), which in hindsight means the “escape” probably didn’t suggest much of anything at all.

Little information has been released about Farook, and nothing about the other two suspects, so it’s still impossible to know what their motivations were. Again, there seems to have been a level of planning here that doesn’t support the idea that Farook just snapped, collected his pals, and shot up his colleagues. Terrorism is clearly a possibility. So is a planned, rather than spontaneous, workplace shooting. It’s also possible, I guess, that Farook and his fellow shooters may have been planning a different terror attack, which explains the weapons and gear, but that Farook did decide in a fit of workplace pique to change their target and attack his co-workers instead. I’m totally spitballing right now, and I’m going to stop because it’s irresponsible.

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