Obama to pledge powerful blitz against ISIS after California massacre

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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will tell Americans on Sunday what the government is doing to keep them safe following the mass killing by a couple in California last week that is being investigated as an “act of terror.”

In a rare Oval Office address at 8 p.m. ET (0100 GMT), Obama will lay out the security steps the United States has taken since Islamic State’s Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, an administration official told Reuters.

Under pressure from Republicans over the Islamic State threat, Obama will also will say he will use “every single aspect of American power” to destroy the militant group, the official said.

But the administration has signaled it is also rethinking its strategy on how to deal with homegrown extremists, who may be inspired by Islamic State but operate on their own volition.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is focusing on what led U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his Pakistani wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, to open fire at a holiday party with Farook’s co-workers in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday.

Fourteen people died and 21 were wounded before police killed Farook and Malik in a street shootout a few hours later. Federal officials said the attack was an “act of terror” and are trying to determine any links to Islamic State.

Lynch said investigators had conducted 300 interviews and searched several sites related to last week’s attack. Neither Farook nor Malik was on the list of 900 U.S. residents under FBI investigation for suspected ties to Islamic extremist groups.

“I can’t say definitively right now what led either of these two people to pick up guns and become murderers,” Lynch said. “We’re looking at everything we can find out about these two killers’ lives — how they grew up, where they grew up, how they met.

“These two individuals — self-radicalized, radicalized by others — that’s what we definitely want to learn so we can figure out how to best prevent this again,” she added.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Malik was “the wild card” in the case and apparently had much to do with taking the couple’s Muslim faith into radicalization.

Pakistani relatives of the woman, who Farook brought to the United States on a “fiancée visa” last year, said she appeared to have abandoned moderate Islam.

Facebook confirmed that comments praising Islamic State were posted about the time of the shooting to an account set up by Malik under an alias. Islamic State said on Saturday the couple were among its followers.

Because Farook and Malik had four guns, some 6,000 rounds of ammunition and a dozen pipe bombs either with them or at their rented townhouse in Redlands, a U.S. government source said investigators are becoming increasingly convinced they were planning multiple attacks.

The source said authorities do not believe Enrique Marquez, a friend of Farook’s suspected of providing weapons to the couple, is linked to terrorism but are still investigating.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the New York Times the Obama administration was rethinking its approach to domestic terror because of the San Bernardino assault.

He said the United States should beef up airline security by increasing agents in overseas airports, bolster standards for visa-waiver programs and improve communications between officials and Muslim communities to help locate threats.

Even before San Bernardino, concerns about the United States as a terror target were elevated by the Islamic State attacks in Paris and plans to admit 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war.

Lynch said Obama’s address to the nation would focus on what the federal government has done “to ensure all of our highest priorities — the protection of the American people.”

“I think he’ll talk about the actions we’ve taken, not just since 9/11 but since Paris to keep the American people and American interests safe,” she said. “You may hear him call on Congress to … take action as well.”

The San Bernardino attacks will add to the debate on how much power law enforcement and intelligence agencies need to ensure safety from extremists. Complaints about the intrusiveness of the National Security Administration led a week ago to the shutting down of its daily vacuuming of millions of Americans’ phone records.

Democrat Hillary Clinton, who served as Obama’s secretary of state, said she expected the president to announce a new approach to Islamic State that would be “an intensification of the existing strategy,” which focuses on coalition airstrikes.

Republican presidential candidates demanded tighter security standards to fight terror, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is near the bottom of polls in the field, said Islamic State was planning a “9-11 style attack” on the United States.

“It is a matter of time (until) we get hit by ISIL. Not some lone wolf attack but hardened terrorists are coming here to hit us hard if we don’t hit them first,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said if he is elected in November 2016, the U.S. approach to Islamic State should be to “carpet bomb them into oblivion.”

Source: Reuters

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