Terrorism ‘not ruled out’ as motive behind Fort Lauderdale shooting

Jan. 7, 2017

Doug Stanglin, Keldy Ortiz and Alan Gomez, USA TODAY Network

Law enforcement officials have “not ruled out terrorism” as a possible motive behind Friday’s shooting rampage that killed at least 5 five people and injured 8 others at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport Friday.

636193670805737552-ap-airport-shooting-florida-suspectAuthorities identified the suspect as Esteban Santiago, 26, an Army veteran who allegedly opened fire in an airport baggage claim and was taken into custody without incident by a Broward County sheriff’s deputy, according to Sheriff Scott Israel.

Israel said Santiago was armed with a semi-automatic handgun and was “indiscriminately firing” at people in a “cowardly, heinous act.”

Santiago arrived in Fort Lauderdale early Friday aboard a Delta flight that originated Thursday in Anchorage and passed through Minneapolis, according to a federal official who is not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

The official said the suspect apparently retrieved a handgun from his checked luggage and loaded it before launching the assault.

Photo: Broward Sheriff’s Office, AP


In November, the suspect appeared unannounced in the FBI offices in Anchorage, complaining that the Islamic State had gained control of his mind and the terror group was urging him to fight on its behalf, the official said.

“His erratic behavior concerned FBI agents,” said George Piro, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office.

The FBI conducted a background check, learning of his military record, which included service in Iraq, but found no connection to terror groups. Determining that the man apparently needed psychiatric care, the FBI alerted local law enforcement and turned him over to their custody for a medical referral. It is not clear whether Santiago received treatment following that incident.

Passengers and their relatives described screams and horror as shots rang out in the baggage area.

Karen Amador, 47, of Boynton Beach, said she was just arriving to pick up her father, who was flying in from Puerto Rico. It was about 1:10 p.m. and she saw two helicopters hovering over the runway.

She described seeing large numbers of law-enforcement vehicles coming in. “It’s insane; it’s like a war zone,” Amador said. “I saw so many SWAT cars going through.”

Several witnesses to Friday’s shooting at Fort Lauderdale International Airport appeared shaken in the aftermath of the incident. (Jan. 6) AP

Operations resumed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Saturday morning, although some flights are canceled or delayed.

The airport reopened at 5 a.m. Saturday after being shut down for nearly 16 hours following the attack. Terminal 2, the center of the attack, was still an active crime scene early Saturday.

A Delta employee reporting to work was told by a Broward County Sheriff’s deputy that no one could enter the terminal and that it was not known when it would reopen. FBI agents wearing gloves evaluated the scene inside the terminal.

Airport employees said operations were running slowly Saturday morning. Many JetBlue flights were canceled, whereas the lines to check in with Allegiant Air and American Airlines snaked out the door.

According to the Fort Lauderdale Airport Twitter account, all roadways to the airport are open again for passengers and employees. People are urged to check with their airlines before going to the airport in case of delays or cancellations.

The airport is processing more than 20,000 bags and personal items from the evacuation.

Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Jim Michaels, in Washington; Abbott Koloff and Monsy Alvarado, The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record; Will Greenlee in Fort Lauderdale, TCPalm; Kristyn Wellesley in Fort Lauderdale, Naples Daily News; the Associated Press

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