FORT DODGE, Iowa - Gov. Christie warned Friday that ISIS could strike "anywhere," and criticized President Obama for refraining from labeling the San Bernardino, Calif., attack an act of terror.
"Even today, he still refuses to say this is a terrorist attack," the Republican presidential candidate told voters gathered for a meet-and-greet in Jefferson, emphasizing his background as New Jersey's U.S. attorney while arguing he was best suited to protect America after a period of post-Sept. 11 "complacency."
Christie asserted that he reached a quick conclusion from reports of Wednesday's attack at a social services center where 14 people were killed.
"I turned to my wife and said, 'This is a terrorist attack,' " Christie said.
He also spoke of a broader risk, telling a crowd earlier Friday in West Des Moines that "if a center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino is a target for radical Islamic terrorism, then every place in America is a target."
FBI officials said Friday that they were investigating the San Bernardino attack as terrorism. Director James Comey said there were "indications of radicalization by the killers," and "potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations." The woman involved in the massacre, Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistan native, pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook the day of the attack, according to news reports. She and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, carried out the attack at a holiday lunch attended by his coworkers.
But Comey also said that "so far we have no indication" the attackers were part of a terrorist network.
Christie, responding to Comey, said that the director "chooses his words very carefully." "There's no evidence at this time," he told reporters. "Let's see how this investigation goes."
Christie didn't hold back from discussing other possibilities Friday. The governor, who has deemed the recent Paris attacks an "intelligence failure," said the same could be true with San Bernardino.
"I don't know what we're going to find out about San Bernardino, but my suspicion is there was a lot of activity on the Internet with these folks beforehand," Christie said in Jefferson.
Christie also didn't hesitate to tie two of his Republican rivals - Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz - to the attack, citing their opposition to the National Security Agency's phone surveillance program, which expired Sunday as a result of a congressional vote.
Christie also brought up the attack while describing his opposition to accepting Syrian refugees, including orphans. While Obama had slammed Republicans opposed to accepting refugees as fearing "widows and orphans," Christie said at the national security forum in Fort Dodge that "we now know from San Bernardino" that "women are very capable of being involved in terrorist activity."
In labeling the San Bernardino massacre "terrorism," Christie told reporters it was "totally different" from the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, because the California attack was "foreign-inspired terrorism."
"Planned Parenthood could wind up being an act of domestic terrorism," Christie said. "That would be like Boston was an act of domestic terrorism. Fort Hood was an act of domestic terrorism."
Federal law defines domestic terrorism as acts dangerous to human life committed primarily on U.S. soil that "appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping."
In domestic attacks, prosecutors have usually turned to other laws that carry the death penalty, such as murder, attempted murder, or using weapons of mass destruction. Separately, there is a specific federal crime of terrorism, when violence is directed at a federal installation or at officers and employees of the government.
Tom Ridge, the first homeland security secretary and a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, said Friday that it was clear to him early on that the San Bernardino attack was an act of terrorism - "and I didn't have access to the same information [intelligence] that I used to."
In Ridge's opinion, the determination whether to call a violent attack on U.S. soil an act of terrorism is primarily a political decision.
"There's so much reluctance on the part of law enforcement, they're moving so cautiously," Ridge said. "I don't know if they're afraid that the media will get on them or they'll get sued or what."
Voters interviewed at Christie's events Friday approved of his assessment and description of "radical Islamic terrorism."
"We have to stop this being afraid to profile people," said Larry Rice, 65, of Riverside, who called Christie "too liberal" but liked his national security focus. "It's radical Muslims that are causing the problems. It's not middle-aged white guys named Smith and Jones."