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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Fort Lauderdale shooting suspect warned he could face death penalty

Esteban Santiago has appeared in court in Fort Lauderdale (Broward Sheriffs Office/PA)
Esteban Santiago has appeared in court in Fort Lauderdale (Broward Sheriffs Office/PA)

The Iraq war veteran accused of shooting five people dead inside Fort Lauderdale's airport has appeared in court and was told he could face the death penalty.

Esteban Santiago, 26, faced US Magistrate Judge Alicia Valle in a federal court in the Florida city, shackled and wearing a red jumpsuit.

He spoke in a clear voice as he told the judge he understands the charges he faces, which include committing violence against people at an international airport resulting in death, and two firearms offences.

The judge ordered him to be detained until a further hearing later this month, and told him the death penalty could apply if he is found guilty.

"We are telling you the maximum penalty allowed by law so that you understand the seriousness of the charges," the judge said.

He said he had been in the Army but had worked for security company Signal 88 in Anchorage, Alaska, until November.

Ms Valle set a detention hearing for January 17, followed by a plea hearing on January 23.

There was tight security in and around the court, with several armed officers stationed outside alongside mounted police and dog units.

Santiago has been in custody since Friday's shooting in the baggage reclaim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The FBI said Santiago had flown in on a one-way ticket from Anchorage.

He had checked in one piece of luggage - a gun box for his Walther 9mm semi-automatic pistol and two magazines of ammunition, according to an FBI affidavit. Agents allege he retrieved the box in baggage reclaim and loaded his weapon in a toilet before opening fire.

In November, Santiago walked into an FBI field office in Alaska with a handgun and his infant child, saying the US government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, authorities said.

Officers seized the weapon and local officers took him for a mental health evaluation. His girlfriend picked up the child.

On December 8, the gun was returned to Santiago. Authorities would not say if it was the same gun used in the airport attack.

AP

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