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5 dead as army veteran opens fire at airport in Florida

By Seema Hakhu Kachru
Last updated on: January 07, 2017 13:11 IST

An army veteran, who had told the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that he was being forced to fight for the Islamic State, opened fire in the baggage area of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, killing five people and wounding eight others, the latest mass shooting incident to rock the United States.

IMAGE: People take cover outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The 26-year-old suspect, identified as Esteban Santiago who had been treated for mental health issues, drew a gun from his checked luggage on arrival at the busy airport and opened fire in the baggage claim area Friday, authorities said.

Santiago, who was wearing a Star Wars T-shirt, was taken into custody. His motive was not immediately known.

Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s office said five people were dead and eight had been taken to a nearby hospital.

The shooting took place on Friday in Terminal 2 in the baggage claim area, outside the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, police said. Air Canada and Delta Airlines operate out of Terminal 2.

IMAGE: Police said the gunman arrived at the airport with a checked gun. After he claimed his bag, he took the gun from bag. Thereafter, he went into the bathroom to load it. He started shooting as he came out of the bathroom. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

People were corralled onto the tarmac and paramedics were at the scene, police said. All services at the airport have been temporarily suspended, the airport tweeted.

A Iraq war veteran, Santiago was discharged from the Alaska Army National Guard last year due to unsatisfactory performance.

In November, Santiago paid a visit to the FBI office in Anchorage, telling agents he was being directed by a US intelligence agency to fight for IS, CNN reported, citing law enforcement sources.

IMAGE: Passengers wait for word about their flights as first responders secure the area outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

George Piro, the special agent in charge in Miami, told reporters that Santiago was turned over to local authorities and he voluntarily submitted to a mental health evaluation.

The military said Santiago’s nine years of service in the guard included one 10-month tour of Iraq, where he was awarded a combat action badge.

“The President (Barack Obama), on behalf of the American people, extended his sincere condolences to the families and other loved ones of those killed and noted that his thoughts and prayers are with the wounded,” said Ned Price, Spokesman of National Security Council, White House.

Federal authorities will continue to assist the ongoing investigation into this horrific shooting, Price said.

IMAGE: First responders secure the area outside the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after the shooting. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Earlier, Obama spoke by phone with Florida Governor Rick Scott and Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief following the tragic loss of life in the incident.

“Monitoring the terrible situation in Florida. Just spoke to Governor Scott. Thoughts and prayers for all. Stay safe!” US President-elect Donald Trump said in a tweet.

Hundreds of people were standing on the tarmac as dozens of police cars and ambulances rushed to the scene.

Police received a call just before 1 pm local time (2330 IST on Friday) about shots fired at Terminal Drive. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in a tweet, “I’m at the Ft Lauderdale Airport. Shots have been fired. Everyone is running.”

A Miami TV station tweeted footage claiming to be from inside the baggage terminal. The video shows several injured people lying on the floor as witnesses shout for medical help.

IMAGE: People exit the airport perimeter following a shooting incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale. Photograph: Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief told CNN that the shooter acted alone and there is no evidence of a partner.

“At this time we do not have a motive, but we are actively investigating that,” she said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott wrote on social media, “I am on my way to Fort Lauderdale International Airport to be briefed by law enforcement.”

“The shooter was very skinny. He seemed to be very young... He was just letting himself be dragged by the police. It was scary,” an eyewitness said.

More than 325 departure and 325 arrival flights come in and out of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in a day, according to the airport’s website. Over 73,000 travellers are at the airport on a daily basis.

According to the Pentagon, suspect Santiago was recipient of several medals including one ‘Global War on Terrorism Service Medal’.

Police said he arrived at the airport with a checked gun. After he claimed his bag, he took the gun from bag. Thereafter, he went into the bathroom to load it.

Santiago started shooting as he came out of the bathroom. His brother was quoted as saying in the local press that Santiago was receiving psychological treatment while living in Alaska.

“Our hearts ache for those killed in this senseless attack, and we pray for the swift recovery of all who were wounded. No words can replace the loss of loved ones. No moments of silence can quiet the voices across America calling for action,” said Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader. 

Seema Hakhu Kachru
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