MULTAN, Pakistan – The woman who carried out last week’s mass shooting in California with her husband had attended an Islamic religious school, or madrassa, founded by a Pakistani scholar who now lives in Canada, intelligence officials and the school said Monday.
Few details have emerged about Tashfeen Malik’s life in Pakistan, where she lived from 2007 to 2014 before heading to the United States on a fiancee visa. Malik studied pharmacy at the Bahauddin Zakariya University in the central city of Multan, where she got a degree in 2013.
While in Multan, she also attended a religious school, which Pakistani intelligence officials on Monday identified as the Al-Huda International Seminary. The school is a women-only madrassa with branches across Pakistan and in the U.S. and Canada, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The Canadian branch is based in Mississauga, Ont., according to the foundation’s website.
Al-Huda’s founder, Farhat Hashmi, who now lives in Canada, has been criticized for promoting a conservative strain of Islam, though the school has no known links to extremists. In Pakistan, it is popular among upper-middle class and urban women interested in Islamic studies.
The region where the school is located, however, is home to thousands of extremist seminaries, with hundreds of them linked to al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan, which supports Islamic militants battling archrival India in the disputed region of Kashmir and is widely believed to have ties to insurgents in Afghanistan, has long turned a blind eye to institutions that teach radical interpretations of Islam.
Malik spent more than a year at Al-Huda, taking classes six days a week, the school’s spokeswoman Farrukh Chaudhry told The Associated Press.
She enrolled in a two-year course to study the Qur’an, its translation and interpretation, but did not finish the course, Chaudhry added. Malik was a student there from April 17, 2013 until May 3, 2014, when she handed in her last paper in the first-year curriculum, the spokeswoman said.
“According to our records, this girl didn’t complete the course,” Chaudhry said, speaking over the phone from the southern port city of Karachi where she is based. “She told us that she was going to get married in two months, and after that she will leave for America.”
Malik promised to complete her studies by mail correspondence but that never happened, Chaudhry said.
“I have talked to her teachers, her classmates and everybody says she was a hardworking, friendly, helpful and obedient student,” Chaudhry said, adding that “no one ever noticed any signs of radicalization.”
One of the teachers at the seminary, Aalia Qamar, said Malik attended classes regularly, and introduced three or four of her friends to the school. She asked many questions in class about religion and at times debated religious matters with teachers and classmates.
On Monday, Pakistani police barred local and international media from entering the pharmacy department where Malik studied. Police inspector Muhammad Ali said the reporters did not have valid documents to work in the city.
The university administration deployed extra private security guards outside the facility and after an argument with some reporters, university security officials called in the police. The police escorted two journalists off the campus.
Pakistani authorities have also been looking into Malik’s time in Multan. Police and intelligence agents have searched the house where she lived on two occasions since Friday. Shabana Saif, a counterterrorism official, said intelligence agents seized documents, family photo albums and a laptop belonging to Malik’s sister, Shahida, who was studying engineering at a Pakistani college. It is not clear whether the house, which has been sealed, was owned by Tashfeen or her father.
Malik and her American-born husband Syed Farook were killed in a shootout with police hours after they opened fire with assault rifles on a gathering of Farook’s colleagues last Wednesday in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people.
The FBI said Friday that it is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism. If the massacre was inspired by Islamic extremism, it would be the deadliest such attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.