Federal prosecutors have filed charges against a man accused of killing five people at Fort Lauderdale Airport. Authorities also said a gun they seized from the suspect in November was returned to him a month later.
Prosecutors filed court documents on Saturday charging Esteban Santiago with carrying out an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death - a charge which carries a maximum punishment of the death penalty.
The 26-year-old Iraq war veteran was also charged with two firearms offenses. He is accused of killing five people and wounding six others on Friday when he opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International baggage claim.
"Today's charges represent the gravity of the situation and reflect the commitment of federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel to continually protect the community and prosecute those who target our residents and visitors," U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said.
Santiago told investigators that he planned the attack and purchased a one-way ticket from Anchorage, Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, according to a federal complaint. Authorities are still unsure of the suspect's motive and have not ruled out terrorism.
He is set to appear in court in Fort Lauderdale on Monday.
Seized gun returned
The FBI and Anchorage police also said on Saturday that a firearm they had seized from Santiago was returned to him in December.
Last November, Santiago walked into the local FBI office in Anchorage and told agents his mind was being controlled by a US intelligence agency, FBI special agent Marlin Ritzman told a press conference on Saturday.
He had a loaded magazine on him at the time but left his gun in his vehicle along with his newborn child. The firearm was seized while Santiago was turned over to local police for a mental health evaluation.
"Santiago was having terroristic thoughts and believed he was being influenced by ISIS (the so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group,)" Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley told the news conference.
Santiago was not found to be mentally ill and his firearm was returned early last month, Tolley said. He did not say whether the firearm was the same weapon used in the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting.
On Friday, Santiago retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun from his checked luggage at the Fort Lauderdale airport. He loaded the firearm in the bathroom before indiscriminately shooting in the baggage claim area.
Five people died and six more people sustained gunshot wounds while another three dozen were taken to local hospitals with broken bones or bruises sustained while passengers fled the crowded area.
rs/kl (AP, Reuters)