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San Bernardino attack sparks new fears

Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik

By Julian Hattem and Jordan Fabian – 12/05/15 06:00 AM EST

This week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., is prompting new fears about terror attacks inside the United States, and shows the limits of federal efforts to halt all instances of extremist violence.

The government has devoted massive resources to halting such attacks from Islamic militants in the years since 9/11, but the very nature of “lone wolf” radicals makes them nearly impossible to prevent.

Wednesday’s episode underscored the unpredictability of the threat facing the country, analysts said. A recently married couple with a newborn baby, no history of radicalization and family connections to a decorated U.S. military veteran apparently carried out what is being investigated as the deadliest attack on American soil since 9/11.

The shooting will inflame anxiety about terrorism from groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — worries that had already spiked following last month’s attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed. Yet the government’s ability to respond may be limited.

“The lone wolf problem is so incredibly difficult to predict, because anyone can, again, wake up in the morning and pledge allegiance to ISIS without ever having direct contact with a terrorist, and then go out and commit an act of violence in the name of that group,” said Rick Nelson, a former official with the National Security Council and National Counterterrorism Center who is now a senior non-resident associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“How do you stop that?”