Wife in California massacre visited terrorist haven in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD — Tashfeen Malik — who the FBI says pledged allegiance on Facebook to the Islamic State before helping her husband kill 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. — was born in Saudi Arabia to a middle-class Pakistani family mainly associated with agriculture or private businesses.
Her father, Gulzak Malik, previously lived in the Karor Lal Esan locality of District Layyah in Pakistan’s tumultuous Southern Punjab province. Tashfeen Malik, 27 years old when she was killed Wednesday in a rented SUV in a shootout with law enforcement, went to that province several years ago to study pharmacy in Multan city — known for its mangos that are exported worldwide. She often visited Layyah while a student, neighbors said.
Government critics long have demanded a full-fledged military operation against the Layyah area — about 300 miles from Pakistan’s capital here — which they contend is a known breeding ground for terrorists and militant training centers:
• Saifur Rehman Saifi, a terrorist credited with pioneering suicide attacks in Pakistan after 9/11, joined the militancy in his native Layyah. After he was killed in Afghanistan, his friends brought his body to the city for burial.
• Masood Azhar, the founder of the militant Jaish-e-Muhammad organization, is a native of Bahawalpur city in the same Southern Punjab region. He is the most-wanted terrorist in India, which released him in exchange for prisoners on a hijacked Indian airliner in 1999.
• Malik Ishaq, the former leader of the globally known militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was killed this year in Muzaffargarh, about 62 miles from Layyah.
Data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal shows that there are about 57 extremist and terror groups in the Punjab province alone.
Neighbors of Gulzak Malik said though he had moved to Saudi Arabia about three decades ago, he maintained his connections with Southern Punjab. He was believed to be a moderate Muslim when he left, but while in Saudi Arabia, neighbors say, it seemed as though he and his family changed.
Muhammad Fakhar, who lived in the Maliks’ neighborhood and has known them a long time, expressed shock during an interview with the Tribune-Review over Tashfeen Malik’s involvement in the terrorist attack.
“I never knew she could be so dangerous,” Fakhar, 33, said of the automatic rifles, semi-automatic handguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition and numerous homemade and remote-control bombs she and her husband Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, brought to bear against civilians and police.
As investigators piece together details of the deadly terrorist attack in California, Fakhar said most of the Maliks’ family members in Layyah have relocated either for security reasons or to avoid questioning by security personnel.
The FBI says it has recovered Tashfeen Malik’s photos with hardline cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz of Islamabad, who had announced open support of the Islamic State.
A U.S. diplomat in the United Kingdom has met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, currently in London, to brief him about Tashfeen Malik’s terrorism link.
Malik’s role in the San Bernardino massacre has reinforced the stance of numerous Pakistani politicians and security analysts who have been demanding that the government launch a military offensive against the militant training centers operating in the region.
The root causes of the militancy in the region are mainly poverty and illiteracy due to the Pakistani government’s lack of attention to the poorest region of Punjab, which lacks development, clean drinking water, quality education and health facilities.
During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the Punjab government spent less than 40 billion rupees (about $380 million) out of 104 billion rupees (about $987 million) allocated for development projects in the Southern region. The region also produces a major chunk of Pakistan’s cotton crop.
Ishtiaq Ahmed, an Islamabad-based reporter, is one of two Pakistani journalists the Tribune-Review hosted for a month last year in a professional partnership program through the International Center for Journalists.