California shooter attended Islamic school in Pakistan
MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — The woman who carried out last week’s mass shooting in California with her husband had attended an Islamic religious school, or madrassa, while living in Pakistan, intelligence officials and the school said Monday.
Few details have emerged about Tashfeen Malik’s life in Pakistan, where she lived from 2007 to 2014 before heading to the United States on a fiancee visa. Malik studied pharmacy at the Bahauddin Zakariya University in the central city of Multan, where she got a degree in 2013.
She also took classes at the Multan branch of Al-Huda International Seminary, a women-only madrassa with branches across Pakistan and in the U.S. and Canada. The school has no known links to extremists, and in Pakistan it is popular among upper-middle class and urban women.
The region where the school is located, however, is home to thousands of extremist seminaries, with hundreds linked to al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan, which supports Islamic militants battling archrival India in the disputed region of Kashmir and is widely believed to have ties to insurgents in Afghanistan, has long turned a blind eye to institutions that teach radical interpretations of Islam.
Al-Huda said in a statement that it has no links to any “extremist regime” and seeks to promote a “peaceful message of Islam and denounce extremism, violence and acts of terrorism.”
It said Malik studied at the Multan branch for a brief period between 2013 and 2014 and left without completing the diploma course. “It seems that she was unable to understand the beautiful message of the Quran. We cannot be held responsible for personal acts of any of our students,” the statement said.
Malik spent more than a year at Al-Huda, taking classes six days a week, the school’s spokeswoman Farrukh Chaudhry told The Associated Press.
She enrolled in a two-year course to study the Quran, its translation and interpretation, but did not finish the course, Chaudhry added. Malik was a student there from April 17, 2013 until May 3, 2014, when she handed in her last paper in the first-year curriculum, the spokeswoman said.
“She told us that she was going to get married in two months, and after that she will leave for America.” Chaudhry said by phone from the southern port city of Karachi, where she is based.
Malik promised to complete her studies by mail correspondence, but that never happened, Chaudhry said.
“I have talked to her teachers, her classmates, and everybody says she was a hardworking, friendly, helpful and obedient student,” Chaudhry said, adding that “no one ever noticed any signs of radicalization.”
One of the teachers at the seminary, Aalia Qamar, said Malik attended classes regularly, and introduced three or four of her friends to the school. She asked many questions in class about religion and at times debated religious matters with teachers and classmates.
On Monday, Pakistani police barred local and international media from entering the pharmacy department of the university where Malik studied. Police inspector Muhammad Ali said the reporters did not have valid documents to work in the city.
The university administration deployed extra private security guards outside the facility and after an argument with some reporters, university security officials called in the police. The police escorted two journalists off the campus.
Pakistani authorities have also been looking into Malik’s time in Multan. Police and intelligence agents have searched the house where she lived on two occasions since Friday. Shabana Saif, a counterterrorism official, said intelligence agents seized documents, family photo albums and a laptop belonging to Malik’s sister, Shahida, who was studying engineering at a Pakistani college. It is not clear whether the house, which has been sealed, was owned by Tashfeen or her father.
Malik and her American-born husband Syed Farook were killed in a shootout with police hours after they opened fire with assault rifles on a gathering of Farook’s colleagues last Wednesday in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people.
The FBI said Friday that it is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism. If the massacre was inspired by Islamic extremism, it would be the deadliest such attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
Shahzad reported from Islamabad.