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3 Tied to San Bernardino Gunman Are Indicted

The investigation into the San Bernardino massacre produced criminal charges on Thursday against the brother of one of the attackers and two other people — not for contributing to the mass shooting, but for their roles in a sham marriage designed to skirt immigration laws.

On Dec. 2, Syed Rizwan Farook, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, armed themselves with assault rifles and pipe bombs, and carried out one of the worst terror attacks on American soil, killing 14 people and wounding more than 20 others at a social services center in San Bernardino, Calif. The couple then died in a shootout with the police.

The only person arrested in connection with the massacre has been Enrique Marquez Jr., a longtime friend of Mr. Farook's, charged with providing material support to terrorists, making a "straw purchase" of a gun for Mr. Farook, and other crimes.

Federal officials have said that Mr. Marquez also admitted that in exchange for money, and as a favor to the Farooks, he entered into a fraudulent marriage with a Russian immigrant, Mariya Chernykh, so she could gain legal residence in the United States.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced felony charges against Ms. Chernykh, 26, her sister, Tatiana Farook, 31, and Ms. Farook's husband, Syed Raheel Farook, 31, the brother of the San Bernardino gunman. All pleaded not guilty and will be released on bond. A trial is set for June 21. Law enforcement officials stressed they did not believe that any of the three had advance knowledge of the December attack, or took steps to conceal evidence afterward, but that major investigations often lead to the discovery of unrelated offenses.

The F.B.I. continues to comb through the backgrounds of the San Bernardino attackers, looking for motives and possible accomplices, and until recently the bureau was engaged in a very public legal battle with Apple over Syed Rizwan Farook's cellphone. The company refused to help the F.B.I. unlock the phone to search his contacts and messages, but the bureau dropped the matter after cracking the phone's security with help from an unknown outside group that was apparently paid at least $1.3 million.

The indictment, announced Thursday, represents an unusually tough stance for the government in a marriage fraud case. Five criminal charges are leveled at Ms. Chernykh, including fraudulent use of immigration documents and lying to federal agents, with combined maximum prison terms of up to 30 years. Syed Raheel Farook, a U.S. Navy veteran who worked as a computer technician aboard an aircraft carrier, and his wife, are also charged in one of those counts, conspiracy to make false statements under oath on government documents, and face a maximum sentence of five years.

Ordinarily, the authorities do not pursue criminal charges for a sham marriage, just an admission by the U.S. citizen, and deportation of the immigrant, said Carl Shusterman, an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles who has formerly handled immigration cases for the government.

"I've never seen anything like these kinds of charges in a sham marriage case," he said. "I think it has to be related to the fact that there's a link to the shooting."

On immigration forms, Ms. Chernykh and Mr. Marquez stated that they lived with the Farooks in their townhouse in Corona, Calif. Federal agents, who had searched the home this year, did so again Thursday, and also searched a residence in Ontario, Calif., that was identified as Ms. Chernykh's.

In fact, the indictment says, neither Mr. Marquez nor Ms. Chernykh lived with the Farooks, and she "resided with her child and an adult male other than Enrique Marquez Jr." in Ontario.

The would-be couple had wedding pictures taken and opened a joint bank account, but the indictment shows that they were far from expert at creating a false front. At one point, Tatiana Farook told her sister to stop posting pictures of herself posing with her real boyfriend to her social media page, the indictment says, and another time, Ms. Farook told Mr. Marquez that he needed to change the address on his driver's license to match the one on the immigration forms.

They also left a considerable electronic trail, particularly as Mr. Marquez and Ms. Chernykh prepared last fall for an interview with immigration agents, who would try to determine if their marriage was genuine. Last November, they exchanged messages that "discussed their mutual anxiety for their upcoming immigration interview due to the lack of contact with each other," and he told her he was afraid of going to prison for immigration fraud, the indictment says.

At about the same time, someone using Mr. Marquez's Facebook page indicated that he might be in trouble, writing "involved in terrorist plots, drugs, antisocial behavior, marriage, might go to prison for fraud, etc."

But the planning to hide the sham marriage continued. The day before the shooting, the indictment says, Ms. Farook sent an electronic message to her husband, asking him to create a backdated lease agreement to make it appear that Mr. Marquez and her sister lived with them. The indictment said that the Farooks helped the pair open their joint account and buy a wedding band, and served as witnesses on their marriage license.

On Thursday, the Farooks' neighbor, Brittani Adams, said she had maintained a friendly relationship with the couple after the December attack.

"It is rough; they are good people just twisted in family stuff," she said. If the coupled feared arrest, she said, they kept it bottled up 'real well.'

The Farook brothers were born in the United States, to parents who immigrated from Pakistan. Ms. Malik was born in Pakistan and spent much of her life in Saudi Arabia, before marrying Syed Rizwan Farook and moving to the United States in 2014.

Officials have said they have no indication that the couple had any connection to a terrorist group or mentor, but instead, it appears they "self-radicalized." They seemed unlikely candidates for it. Mr. Farook worked for several years as an inspector for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, where he reportedly had no conflicts with co-workers. Ms. Malik had a college degree in pharmacology, and the couple had a baby daughter.

[Source: By Ian Lovett and Richard Pérez-Peña, The New York Times, Los Angeles, 28Apr16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 29Apr16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.