Law enforcement personnel shield civilians outside a garage area at Fort Lauderdale. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
fort lauderdale

Florida shooting: Gunman was Iraq war veteran known to FBI

President-elect Trump said his “thoughts and prayers” were with the victims.

AN IRAQ WAR veteran opened fire at Fort Lauderdale’s main airport, a major tourist hub in Florida, killing five people and injuring eight, as panicked travelers fled for safety.

The suspect, identified by police as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, in now in custody and being questioned by the FBI over the shooting that shut down the international airport that is a gateway to the Caribbean.

The incident occurred in the baggage claim area of Terminal 2, as passengers collecting their luggage were interrupted by the alleged gunman, who withdrew a semi-automatic handgun before mowing down his victims.

Witness John Schlicher told Fox News that he was picking up his first bag as he “heard the first shot. As I did, the person right next to me fell to the ground… It was very surreal.”

The shooter “was holding a handgun. He was firing into the crowd. Everyone was standing there waiting for the luggage”, he said.

Video showed passengers running for safety.

Airport Shooting Florida People stand on the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport. AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee / Wilfredo Lee

There was no immediate indication of a motive for the assault, in a country where gun violence is widespread due to the ready availability of firearms.

Santiago had traveled from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, with a stopover in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the special agent in charge of Miami’s FBI field office, George Piro, told reporters late Friday.

According to CBS he engaged in an argument on one leg of the trip.

“We’re looking at several investigative leads not only in Alaska but other states that we have determined that he’s either traveled to or has connections there,” Piro said.

The suspect checked a gun inside his luggage, after declaring the weapon with airport authorities, then used it to take down his victims, CNN reported, citing law enforcement sources.

Airport Shooting Florida People leave the garage area with their hands up outside Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport. AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee AP Photo / Wilfredo Lee / Wilfredo Lee

He was detained without law enforcement firing any shots, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters.

Piro said authorities were “looking at every angle, including the terrorism angle,” but that it would take time to determine the nature of the attack.

‘Lone shooter’

In November, Santiago had walked into the FBI’s Anchorage office exhibiting “erratic behavior” that led agents to contact local police, who took him to a medical facility for a mental health evaluation, Piro said.

CBS News reported that Santiago claimed he was being forced to fight for the Islamic State group and that the CIA was controlling his mind to make him watch IS videos.

Santiago, a former member of the Puerto Rico and Alaska National Guard, served in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011. He ended his service in August.

ABC News reported that Santiago, who only reached the rank of private first class, received a general discharge for unsatisfactory performance.

Santiago was also the subject of a child porn investigation several years ago, but no charges were brought, CBS said.

Mayor Barbara Sharief told CNN that the gunman “was a lone shooter, and we have no evidence at this time that he was acting with anyone else”.

Hours after the shooting, which occurred shortly before 1:00 pm (7pm Irish time), many passengers still huddled inside the airport awaiting the all-clear.

Airport Shooting Florida AP Photo / Julie Brown AP Photo / Julie Brown / Julie Brown

“We’ve had dozens and dozens of busses transporting what we anticipate to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 folks,” airport director Mark Gale said.

Gale said the airport, which had suspended all activity, aims to be operational by 5am (9am Irish time) this morning.

Run and hide

In addition to those killed and wounded, up to 40 people went to the hospital for various other injuries such as falling and sprains, Israel said.

Cellphone video footage broadcast by the local Fox television affiliate showed one person lying bloodied on the floor, and several others on their knees.

US President Barack Obama expressed “how heartbroken we are for the families who’ve been affected” during excerpts of an interview with ABC News.

Governor Rick Scott, who rushed to the airport to be briefed, told reporters that those responsible would be “held accountable to the full extent of the law.”

Scott said that he had contacted President-elect Donald Trump, who said that he was “monitoring the terrible situation in Florida.”

“Thoughts and prayers for all. Stay safe!” Trump tweeted.

- © AFP, 2016

Read: Five people dead after gunman opens fire at Fort Lauderdale Airport

Read: Orlando’s soccer club dedicates part of stadium to Pulse nightclub victims

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.