No evidence California attackers were part of terrorist cell: FBI head

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FBI Director Refutes Theories on San Bernardino


There is no evidence a married couple who killed 14 people in California this month were part of a terrorist cell, the head of the FBI said on Wednesday, echoing investigators' views that the pair were inspired by, rather than organized by Islamic State.

The Islamist militant group has "revolutionized" terrorism by seeking to inspire such small-scale attacks, FBI Director James Comey said, noting the group uses social media, encrypted communications and slickly produced propaganda to recruit followers around the world.

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"Your parents' al Qaida was a very different model than the threat we face today," Comey told a counterterrorism conference in New York.

However, he said that while the perpetrators of the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino, California - Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 29 - had expressed support for "jihad and martyrdom" in private communications, they never did so on social media.

Comey said the Federal Bureau of Investigation currently has "hundreds" of investigations in all 50 U.S. states involving potential Islamic State-inspired plots.

His remarks came as Americans are jittery two weeks after the San Bernardino attack. Islamic State is based in Iraq and Syria, where it controls a large area of territory as it seeks to carve out a caliphate. It claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.

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No evidence California attackers were part of terrorist cell: FBI head
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: Inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly the recent mass shootings, lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A Quran sits in the living room inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: An identification card for Syed Farook inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A hole in the ceiling could be seen inside the closet area of the rear bedroom inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A baby crib is seen inside the baby room of the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings, lived, on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A firearm lubricant could be seen in the closet of the front bedroom inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: Media reporters go in and out of the townhouse where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A praying mat and a cleared out closet in the baby room in the front of the apartment. A rare first glimpse inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly the recent mass shootings, lived, on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: Prayer beads are seen laying on the bed alongside personal documents in the rear bedroom inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A closet inside the baby room. A rare first glimpse inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings, lived, on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 4: A rare first glimpse inside the house where Syed Rizwan Farook and Tafsheen Malik, suspects of the deadly recent mass shootings, lived on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A book sits on a table inside the home of San Bernardino mass murder suspect Syed Farook, December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Journalists squeeze into a child's bedroom in the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the kitchen inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A television crew prepares to do a live report inside a child's bedroom in the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN BERNARDINO, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters take pictures of photographs found inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Baby food sits on a kitchen counter inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: A hatchet sits in a kitchen drawer inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Arabic books sit in a closet inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: An Islamic Manners book sits in a bedroom inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: A book about prayer sits on a bedside table inside the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN BERNARDINO, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of shooting suspect Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
REDLANDS, CA - DECEMBER 04: Reporters inspect the home of Syed Farook on December 4, 2015 in Redlands, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Members of the media crowd into the apartment bedroom of San Bernardino shooting suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, in Redlands, Calif., Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited journalists into the townhouse. A book containing passages from the Quran is seen at right. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into a child's room in an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into the living room of an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into the living room of an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Members of the media crowd into a child's room in an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
A member of the media films a wall tapestry displaying religous writing in the living room of an apartment in Redlands, Calif., shared by San Bernardino shooting rampage suspects Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, after the building landlord invited media into the townhouse rented by the California attackers. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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Comey said the group has perfected the use of social media, and Twitter in particular, to contact potential followers in the United States and elsewhere.

"Twitter works as a way to sell books, as a way to promote movies, and it works as a way to crowdsource terrorism – to sell murder," Comey said.

Islamic State also employs "end-to-end" encryption when communicating with individuals who it believes are willing to carry out killings in its name, Comey said.

That has posed a significant challenge for investigators, who often find themselves stymied even when they have court orders giving them access to devices.

But Comey said he is convinced that law enforcement and technology companies can work together to solve that problem without compromising personal privacy.

"We are not going to break the Internet," he said. "We are not going to jeopardize people's security."

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