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 radicalization.
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 Pueto 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.
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 said 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.”
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.”
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.