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FBI Investigates San Bernardino, Calif., Shooting As Act Of Terrorism

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The FBI is now officially investigating the San Bernardino mass shooting as an act of terrorism. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey briefed reporters in Washington. Here's what the FBI director said.

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JAMES COMEY: The investigation so far has developed indications of radicalization by the killers and of a potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations.

MCEVERS: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was at the briefing, and she joins us now. And Carrie, as recently as yesterday, officials were not willing to label this as a terrorism investigation. What changed?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Because of the evidence they found, Kelly - the FBI director didn't want to address this on camera or on tape, but other federal sources tell us they found either late last night or early this morning a Facebook post the female shooter, Tashfeen Malik, posted at the time of the shooting that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. That's on top of other social media contacts the male shooter, Syed Farook, had with people who were on the FBI radar screen, even though there are questions about how substantial those contacts were. And then, on top of all that, there was, of course, the type and number of bombs - 12 IEDs found in a bag at the house alone.

MCEVERS: That's improvised explosive devices. I mean, does this mean that they think the shooters were part of a larger group or even directed by a terrorist organization like ISIS?

JOHNSON: Kelly, at this point, no. Here's FBI Director Comey.

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COMEY: So far, we have no indication that these killers are part of an organized larger group or form part of a cell. There's no indication that are part of a network.

JOHNSON: But the FBI director says his investigators are keeping their minds open to new evidence and, he cautions, a lot in this investigation doesn't make sense. And it's pretty early in the game.

MCEVERS: How about any continued threats? And did the FBI director or the attorney general say anything about any other threats?

JOHNSON: There's no current credible threat inside the U.S. they're aware of. But here's the fear - all year long, U.S. authorities have been warning that people can self-radicalize through Internet propaganda that attracts them any time, day or night. And investigators don't usually have a window into that kind of activity. So the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, told reporters that people in families and communities need to say something when they see something weird or see someone they know changing. That can be a big clue for investigators.

MCEVERS: And you talked about a Facebook post and social media contacts that these two shooters made. It sounds like electronic evidence is pretty important here. Were more did the FBI say about that?

JOHNSON: It's going to take a while to go through the troves of electronic evidence. But the FBI talked about two cell phones found near the suspects' townhouse damaged. But FBI lab officials in Quantico, Va., should be able to recover some data. The suspects also allegedly damaged a hard drive sometime before the attack. The FBI's going to be relying on a lot of human intelligence, too, though, Kelly, from family members, the person who bought the rifles for the suspects, who is not himself a suspect at this time, and anyone else who may have interacted with these two shooters in the last few months leading up to this attack. Plus, investigators are hoping for help from governments in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where Tashfeen Malik, the female shooter, lived and where Farook, her husband, visited.

MCEVERS: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thank you so much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

MCEVERS: And at a news conference tonight, attorneys for the family of Syed Farook said they have been cooperating with the FBI. Lawyer David Chesley said there is no evidence that Farook or Malik had extremist views.

DAVID CHESLEY: All there is thus far is some nebulus thing that somebody looked at something on Facebook. I mean, any one of us may have looked at something on Facebook. It doesn't mean we believe in it. I've checked out a Britney Spears post, and I hate Britney Spears' music. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.