Obama meets families of San Bernardino victims

SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA: US President Barack Obama opened his Christmas vacation on a somber note: meeting with families of the 14 people who were killed in the San Bernardino shootings.

Obama stopped in California en route to Hawaii on Friday for his annual holiday getaway.

His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, joined him for the meetings at Indian Springs High School, just a short drive from the airport where Air Force One landed after the cross-country flight from Washington.

“Obviously, those families are going through a difficult time, not just because they’ve lost loved ones, but obviously at the holiday season I think that loss is even more acute,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “The president felt before he could begin his holiday that it was important for him to spend some time with these Americans who are mourning.”

Authorities identified the shooters as American-born Syed Rizwan Farook (28) and his wife, Tashfeen Malik (29) of Pakistan. Both were killed in a shootout with police.

The FBI is investigating the case as an act of terrorism. The couple pledged allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State group on Facebook, moments before the shooting, authorities said. But they have found no evidence that the Farook and Malik were carrying out instructions from an overseas terrorist group or that they were part of a US-based conspiracy.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the November 13 attack in Paris that killed 130 people.

Both attacks, coming days apart and just before the start of the holiday season, heightened public fears about future attacks on US soil.

Obama has tried to allay those concerns with a rare Oval Office address, days after the San Bernardino attack, on the administration’s strategy to counter the threat from IS, as well as through public appearances this week with members of his national security team following separate briefings he received on the Islamic State and potential threats to the homeland.

Most of the 14 people killed at the holiday banquet December 2 worked with Farook in the San Bernardino County public health department. Nine men and five women, ranging in age from 26 to 60, were killed.

Obama flew to California after holding an end-of-year news conference at the White House. After meeting with the families, he planned to continue to Hawaii to begin two weeks of vacation with his wife and daughters in the island state where he was born.

He is scheduled to return to the White House in early January to begin his final year in office.