Five dead in airport shooting by veteran 'who told FBI he was being forced to fight for ISIS'
At least five people have been killed in an attack at Fort Lauderdale airport by a gunman who had reportedly previously told the FBI he was being forced to fight for Isil.
Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old who had been treated for mental health issues, opened fire inside the baggage area of the busy airport and was taken into custody at the scene. He was carrying military ID and was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt.
On Friday night law enforcement officials reportedly said that in November last year, Santiago had told the FBI in Anchorage that voices in his head were forcing him to join and fight for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). Officials said he was not on a watchlist of people suspected of Islamist radicalisation.
Santiago had a history of mental illness and had voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility.
There were questions on Friday night over how he was able to retain and transport a firearm, given his history of mental illness and contact with the FBI.
Officials said the man had checked in his unloaded weapon in when he boarded a flight in Anchorage. There were also reports there had been an "altercation" on board.
Upon arrival in Fort Lauderdale , the man went to load the weapon in the lavatory area and then began shooting.
The attack happened around 1pm local time, as the busy airport, which is a major hub between the US, Europe and the Caribbean, was packed with tourists.
His brother, Bryan Santiago, said the family had moved to Puerto Rico when Santiago was two-years-old. He served with Alaska's National Guard for around two years and in 2010 was deployed to Iraq for a year.
Bryan Santiago said his brother had been fighting with his girlfriend in Alaska.
His aunt, Maria Ruiz, who lives in Union City, New Jersey, said that Santiago came back from Iraq "changed". But, she said, he had become a father last year and the birth of his child made him happy.
FBI Special Agent George Piro said the authorities are looking at leads in several states and have not ruled out terrorism. "We're looking at every angle, including the terrorism angle," he said
Santiago, who is in federal custody, will face federal charges and is expected to appear in court Monday, Mr Piro said.
The airport remained tense in the hours after the shooting, with reports of further shots heard in other parts of the airport.
Hundreds of people were seen running for shelter in live television pictures as witnesses claimed there was a second gunman – reports later denied by police.
Witnesses told NBC Miami that the gunman silently approached the baggage area and started firing. He did not appear to be targeting anyone in particular, “popping off bullets at random”.
Mark Lea, a 53-year-old financial adviser from Minneapolis, who was in the baggage claim area, said: “I was dodging bullets and trying to help people get out of the way. At first we thought it was firecrackers. Everyone started screaming and running. The shooter made his way down through baggage claim. He had what looked like a 9mm and emptied his entire clip. People were trying to run.
"People started kind of screaming and trying to get out of any door they could or hide under the chairs," a witness, Mark Lea, told MSNBC. "He just kind of continued coming in, just randomly shooting at people, no rhyme or reason to it."
Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary, was in the airport at the time. “Everyone is running,” he tweeted. Later, he added: “All seems calm now, but the police aren’t letting anyone out of the airport – at least, not where I am.”
Video posted on Instagram appeared to show several people wounded in the baggage claim area of the terminal. One person was lying in a pool of blood with a head wound.
Donald Trump, who takes over as president in a fortnight, said he was following events. “Monitoring the terrible situation in Florida. Just spoke to Governor Scott. Thoughts and prayers for all. Stay safe!”
President Barack Obama was briefed by his Homeland Security adviser, the White House said.
The airport, America’s 21st busiest, sees an average of 73,000 people pass through every day.
Security is high at US airports as a routine, following terrorist attacks last year on airports in Brussels and Istanbul. The Florida shooting, like those last year, was in the unsecured area of the airport, which does not have screenings.
The attack has raised questions about airport security in the US where it is legal for airline passengers to travel with guns and ammunition as long as the firearms are put in a checked bag - not a carry-on - and are unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container. Guns must be declared to the airline at check-in.
According to a law enforcement source baggage claim areas are particularly vulnerable areas, with passengers sitting targets for anybody who has reclaimed a gun from a suitcase.
“The Swiss cheese of our airports is the baggage area,” a federal source told the New York Post. “It’s the place where all the holes are, because those areas lack the robust security you have in other areas of the airport.”
Additional reporting by Press Association