MIAMI: The US authorities are not ruling out “the terrorism angle” as a potential motive of the Iraq war veteran accused of killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, officials said Saturday.
Police interrogated the suspect, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, throughout much of the night after the shooting rampage that killed five people, wounded six and sent thousands scrambling for safety before the authorities shut down the airport, a major gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America.
“We continue to look at all avenues and all motives for this horrific attack,” George Piro, the special agent in charge of Miami’s FBI field office, told journalists. “We are continuing to look at the terrorism angle in regards to the potential motivation behind this attack.”
Piro said the suspect appeared to be acting alone and that “every indication is that he did follow (Transportation Security Administration) procedures in checking in the weapon,” a nine-millimeter semi-automatic handgun he had declared and stowed inside his checked luggage.
Santiago had traveled from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, with a stopover in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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.
However, he was not placed on a no-fly list, Piro added.
Following the initial gunshots, a deputy officer came into contact with the gunman after around 70 to 80 seconds, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents the district that includes the airport, said the incident brought into question federal rules that allow firearms to be carried on a plane in checked baggage.
“We need to review not only the question of should people be able to travel with the firearm or even if they’re in checked baggage, but we need to take a hard look at the security around baggage claim areas and not just leave it at that,” she said.
“It’s been pointed out that there are many unsecure areas in facilities that the public travels.”
The international flight hub was open again Saturday, aiming to run at about 85 percent of its normal capacity, according to the airport director.
Airport personnel were also busy conducting the complicated task of returning nearly 20,000 pieces of luggage and other personal items abandoned by passengers fleeing at the time of the shooting, officials said.