The killing of at least 14 people in a mass shooting in the US state of California has given way to speculation about the attackers' motives and false claims about their identities.

Police in San Bernardino said 28-year-old US citizen Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, 27, opened fire on a social services centre while it was hosting a Christmas celebration.

They were shot dead by police hours later after an intense manhunt.

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In the aftermath of the killings, the identity of the slain suspects became an issue of debate on Twitter, with users pointing fingers at either right-wing or Muslim groups.

When information leaked out seemingly confirming the Muslim identity of the suspects, focus immediately turned to their possible motives, with an ISIL link being drawn by many users.

An early misidentification of one of the attackers said a Qatari national by the name of Tayyeep Bin Ardogan had taken part in the attacks.

Los Angeles Times reporter Rick Serrano, in a tweet, since deleted, attributed the claim to the police, as did broadcaster Fox News.

Serrano has since clarified that the identification appears to be a hoax but thousands of Twitter users continue to repeat the claim, seemingly unaware that the name sounds very similar to that of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or that Arabic, which is spoken in Qatar, does not have a letter with a "p" sound.

Murtaza Hussain, a Canadian investigative journalist, told Al Jazeera that the rush for news outlets to get information out had given greater credence to unsubstantiated sources.

"Sometimes this rush to be 'first' can have almost comical implications, as news organisations fail to make even the most simple fact checks in a race to get their privileged information out there before anyone else," he said.

"Tayeep Ardogan is just the latest example of this phenomenon and the potential for profound disinformation and hysteria to spread through the news media, and particularly through the 24-hour news cycle."

The mistake has left some people bemused but also questioning how the US media found it acceptable to publish the name without first clarifying whether it was correct.

While US police have refused to comment on a motive, many anti-Islamic users have pointed the finger at the apparent religious affiliation.

The focus on Islam has been criticised by some as premature and in contrast to other US shootings where the perpetrators' religion was not brought into question, such as the killings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last week.

There have been at least 353 mass shootings in the US so far this year, according to shootingtracker.com.

Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM

Erdogan was in Qatar at the time of the shooting [Thibault Camus/AP ]

Source: Al Jazeera