Suspicion surrounds the family of the jihadist couple who last week massacred 14 people in a terror attack at a Southern California office party -- but there is one family member whose innocence is absolute: the couple's 6-month old girl, left orphaned by her murderous parents, and whose fate will be decided by Family Court.
The girl, whose name is not being released, is in the custody of San Bernardino County Child Protective Services, blissfully unaware of the carnage and misery wrought by her parents, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, last Wednesday. Although experts predicted the baby will not be raised by blood relatives, her aunt and uncle moved to gain custody at a Family Court hearing Monday.
"The family is naturally distraught at the separation and are eagerly awaiting to obtain custody of the 6-month-old girl," Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Los Angeles branch said in a statement.
“I doubt very much the child in question will be placed with the family members.”
- David Wohl, Riverside, Calif.-based family attorney
The next hearing is set for January, and the baby likely will be placed with a foster family until then. CAIR attorney Fatima Dadabhy, who represented the family, said its priority is to ensure the baby is placed with a Muslim foster family.
The Monday hearing was closed to the public, said San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert, citing to confidentiality concerns. He said the county is “unable to confirm or deny the existence of a dependency proceeding or whether we are providing services to a particular child.”
The radical Muslim couple reportedly left the girl at their Redlands home with Farook’s mother, Rafia Farook, Wednesday, telling her they were headed to a doctor's appointment. Instead, they drove a rented SUV to the Inland Regional Center, a state social services facility in nearby San Bernardino, where Farook’s co-workers were having a holiday party. Dressed in tactical gear and toting AR-15 assault rifles, they stormed the building and gunned down his co-workers.
Months earlier, Farook’s colleagues at the San Bernardino County Health Department had held a baby shower for the young couple.
In the days following the attack, Farook’s sister Saira Khan and her husband, Farhan Khan, expressed horror and shock at his actions. Farook and Saira Khan's mother, Rafia, who appeared in Family Court Monday with Saira, has not spoken to the press but reportedly told authorities that – despite living in the home with her son, daughter-in-law and baby granddaughter – had no idea of the couple’s radical orientation or murderous intentions.
Farhan Khan, who confirmed to FoxNews.com that the baby was not released to the family Monday, said he and his wife have two children of their own. The couple told ABC News they know that shielding the baby from the knowledge of her parents' unspeakable act will one day become impossible.
"For the time being, we want her to enjoy her innocence," Saira Khan said. "You know, we don't want her to know everything, but I think eventually she will find out probably on her own."
Investigators are believed to be dubious of claims of total ignorance by certain family members, and that skepticism could prompt a Family Court judge to decide it is in the best interests of the baby for her to not be raised by blood relatives, said California-based criminal defense attorney Troy Slaten.
Investigators will be closely looking at the grandmother and the rest of the family, Slaten said, but the grandmother will be a particular target given that she resided with them and “was probably at least aware of all the preparations they were making.” Family court advocates could use this during family court proceedings to push for custody outside the family circle, he said.
“If there is any evidence of even tacit knowledge, involvement or participation, it would certainly give a Family Court judge concern over placing a child in that environment,” Slaten said.
Fellow attorney David Wohl, who has 25 years working on family custody cases in the Riverside area, said the “idea that the family of terrorists knew nothing about their propensity toward jihad or their plans is absurd.”
“I doubt very much the child in question will be placed with the family members,” he said, adding that thorough background checks and home evaluations are critical before any such placements can occur and that the process could take “months” as all relatives will need to be evaluated coinciding with the terrorist investigation and who knew what.
“They will also have to do a background check that could include information as to what the people did before they immigrated to the U.S.,” he said. “Were they a member of a radical mosque, etc.? That could take weeks and even months to evaluate.
The skepticism among officials, locals and the media is growing given that weapons, a stockpile of bomb-making materials and thousands of rounds of ammunition were discovered in the couple’s home. Also under sharp and evolving scrutiny is that almost $28,500 deposited into Farook’s bank account weeks before the lethal rampage – and at least three $5,000 transfers to Rafia Farook in the days leading up to the attack, in what a source described to Fox News as a key indicator of “pre-meditation.”
“Sometimes there is the notion that a son can do no wrong and no one wants to think of their son as ever doing something like that,” said a source connected to the Farook family. “But more and more there are things that don’t add up.”