How San Bernardino Terrorist Lured Nerd Neighbor to Jihad

Prosecutors paint a disturbing portrait of Syed Rizwan Farook radicalizing Enrique Marquez, allegedly convincing him to kill before the convert pulled away.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, via Getty

Four years before Syed Rizwan Farook killed 14 people in the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11, he aspired to throw pipe bombs on his fellow classmates at a California community college and enlisted a neighbor to help him in the rampage, prosecutors alleged Thursday.

Farook and his alleged would-be accomplice, Enrique Marquez, planned to attack Riverside Community College, where they both had been students, and “throw pipe bombs into the cafeteria area from an elevated position on the second floor, and then to shoot people as they fled,” according to a criminal complaint against Marquez, 24.

Marquez has been charged with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists based upon his plotting with Farook, which took place in 2011 and 2012. Marquez is also charged with making straw purchases for the two assault rifles that Farook and his wife, Tafsheen Malik, used in the San Bernardino attack. Marquez was also charged with “defrauding immigration authorities” by entering a sham marriage with one of Farook’s family members.

U.S. authorities laid out a grim tale of jihadi seduction, with Farook indoctrinating Marquez, whom he met in 2005, through jihadist lectures and other propaganda.

It was Farook, authorities said, who “introduced Marquez to Islam” before he converted in 2007.

“Farook later introduced Marquez to radical Islamic ideology, which included expressing disdain towards Muslims in the U.S. military who killed other Muslims, as well as discussing the extremist views of the now-deceased imam and Islamic lecturer Anwar al-Aulaqi,” the Justice Department said in a statement. Al-Aulaqi, also spelled al-Awlaki, was a U.S. citizen and cleric who was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

Awlaki is credited with inspiring U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan to kill 13 people in a shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, Texas, in 2009. And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, has said that he and his brother, Tamerlan, had been influenced by recordings of Awlaki’s sermons.

“Over the next few years, Farook provided Marquez with radical Islamic materials, and by 2011, Marquez spent most of his time at Farook’s residence listening to lectures and watching videos involving radical Islamic content,” according to the Justice Department. “Those materials included Inspire Magazine, the official publication of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and videos produced by Al-Shabaab. In August 2011, Farook informed Marquez of his interest in joining AQAP in Yemen.”

The allegations tend to undercut the notion that it was Farook’s wife, Malik, who radicalized him and persuaded him to engage in violence. Based on their investigation thus far, which has included interviews with Marquez, U.S. officials now believe that Farook was well on the path of radical Islam before he married Malik in 2014, after they met online the prior year.

Farook and Marquez also planned to attack motorists on State Route 91 during afternoon rush hour, prosecutors allege.

“Marquez told investigators that they chose a particular section of the freeway because there were no exits, which would increase the number of targets in the eastbound lanes,” according to the Justice Department. “The plan was for Farook to throw pipe bombs on to the freeway, which they believed would disable vehicles and stop traffic. Farook allegedly planned to then move among stopped vehicles, shooting into them, while Marquez shot into vehicles from a position on a nearby hillside. Marquez allegedly said that he would watch for law enforcement and emergency vehicles, and his priority was to shoot law enforcement before shooting life-saving personnel.”

Marquez didn’t have a role in planning the San Bernardino attacks—but in late 2011 and 2012, he purchased the guns used in the attack, telling investigators “his appearance was Caucasian, while Farook looked Middle-Eastern,” i.e. he would raise less suspicion. Around the same time, Marquez bought smokeless powder “in furtherance of his and Farook’s plans to create bombs and commit mass killings.”

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

But Marquez was getting nervous about his relationship with his budding terrorist friend, and in late 2012, he began to back away from Farook. Authorities said this was prompted in part by the arrest of two Southern California men on material support to terrorism charges.

A friend of Marquez, who asked not to be identified, had previously told The Daily Beast that Marquez’s attraction to Farook and radical Islam was “more of an intellectual curiosity” than a devotion. The friend said Marquez was like a lot of “teenagers trying to find their place,” and that Farook had befriended him and shown him attention. The two used to work on cars together, and that was something that Marquez enjoyed, his friend said.

The friend added that Farook may have been exploring a more “extreme” branch of Islam than what appealed to Marquez. But he was loyal, the friend said, perhaps to a fault.

“He’s very nice and the kind of person you could call if you need something.”

Marquez will have to make his case whether he was a willing participant or a too-trusting young man whose good graces were exploited by Farook. But, according to the friend, he was shocked to learn that Farook and his wife had killed 14 people this month.

In fact, Marquez ratted on his former friend in a call to 911.

“He was the shooter. The fucking asshole used my gun!”

The friend said Marquez called throughout the night of the attacks and the following day, becoming progressively distraught at what had happened.

“‘Why? Why, why did they do that?’” the friend said Marquez asked of Farook and Malik “‘He’s so stupid! Why did they do that?’”

—with additional reporting by M.L. Nestel.