The Role of Tashfeen Malik

I was discussing this – highly hypothetical and speculative – with friends on Facebook last night. The thing that jumps out at me about this evolving story is the role Tashfeen Malik, Syed Farouk’s wife and co-assailant. Female jihadis are not unknown but they are not common and not the norm. Everything we know – or believe we know – about the attack is that Malik was not along for the ride in this massacre, either literally or figuratively. She was a full participant in the attack. Indeed, according to several reports, during the final shoot-out she was the one firing while Farouk drove.

Everything we know about Farouk is that until the last couple years he was an entirely unexceptional character – no sign of radicalism or really anything special. As I said, female jihadis are not common. Given what happened yesterday, it seems far more likely that Malik arrived in the US as a convinced jihadist rather than becoming one under Farouk’s influence in the relatively short time she lived in the United States. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of women who come under the influence on jihadist extremism become supporters of male attackers rather than attackers themselves.

Put more simply, what are the odds that of all the women living in Saudi Arabia in 2013, Farouk would have began a relationship and married one of the very small subset of women who not only subscribed to radical jihadist politics but was one prepared to participate in what amounted to a suicide mission? I’d say those are long odds.

Indeed this morning we have the first reports that either just before or just after the attacks, Malik made a pledge to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi on social media. The following is not news or reporting. It is caveated speculation based on the shreds of evidence we now have: but it seems likely to me that she was the channel of radicalization for her husband or at least the catalyst maintaining it from initial interest to its final, bloody crescendo on Wednesday. Indeed, I’m curious whether, having reached out to radical elements abroad, Farouk wasn’t matched together with Malik either to keep him on his track of radicalization or to get her into the United States or perhaps both.

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