Five dead in Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

Five dead in Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

MIAMI - Agence France-Presse
Five dead in Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

Passengers wait on the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, on Jan 6, after a gunman opened fire in the baggage claim area at the airport, killing five people and wounding others. / AP Photo

An Iraq war veteran opened fire Jan. 6 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, was 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.

A video seen by AFP showed passengers running for safety.

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 on Jan. 6.

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.

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.

In November 2016, 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.

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 last year.

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

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.