Though it didn’t fit the profile of previous attacks, it now seems likely that Wednesday’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, was at least partly linked to Islamist radicalism. Officials now believe, according to CNN, that one of the two shooters, Tashfeen Malik, pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook at some point on Wednesday.
Malik and co-attacker Syed Farook had also prepared pipe bombs similar to the design used by the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston marathon bombing, a design found in multiple issues of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s magazine, Inspire. The FBI says it is looking into whether the couple had used information from the magazine.
Friday’s reports suggest Farook and Malik were supporters of ISIS, rather than its rival al-Qaida, but the distinction between the two formerly allied groups is often not that important to supporters outside the Middle East, and in any case, it’s certainly possible they could have taken tactical advice from al-Qaida propaganda.
Given the semiautomatic weapons and extensive stockpile of ammunition that Farook and Malik had legally obtained, it’s worth remembering that al-Qaida has, in the past, urged its followers to take advantage of America’s permissive gun laws to carry out shooting attacks.*
In a 2011 English-language video, Adam Gadahn, the American militant who became a senior adviser to Osama Bin Laden and was one of al-Qaida’s leading propagandists before he was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan earlier this year, urged supporters living in the West to take action in their own countries against “Zionists and crusaders” and specifically made note of how easy it is to obtain guns in America:
In the West, you’ve got a lot at your disposal. Let’s take America for example. America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?
In the United States, the political response to episodes of mass violence is often determined by the religious background of the perpetrator. If the killers are Muslim, we have a debate about international terrorism and Islamic radicalism. If they’re not, we talk—at least for a very short time—about gun control. But it’s not as if the two issues are unrelated.
*Correction, Dec. 4, 2015: This post originally misstated Farook and Malik had obtained automatic weapons. They were semiautomatic weapons.