FBI says they have not ruled out terrorism in deadly Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

FBI says they have not ruled out terrorism in deadly Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The suspect in a deadly shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport used a gun that he had stored in his checked luggage, raising questions about airport security and whether safety officials need to change the current rules.

Esteban Santiago, 26, retrieved his gun from his bag on the carousel, loaded it in a bathroom of the Fort Lauderdale airport, then emerged shooting in the baggage-claim area Friday, killing five people and wounding eight, authorities said.

FBI agent George Piro said authorities are looking at leads in several states and have not ruled out terrorism.

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“I heard a popping noise. Somebody says, ‘Shots fired.’ I grabbed two of my children (and) ran outside.  I'm looking at a man and a woman; a man bleeding profusely and a woman who just said, ‘Help! help!" said witness Debra Fugleberg.

The Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport was evacuated and operations were shut down. However, early Saturday morning operations resumed throughout most of the airport.

Terminal 2 remains closed "indefinitely," authorities said. Terminal 2 is where the gunman opened fire.

FBI officials said that in November, Santiago told them that the government was controlling his mind and was forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos.

The FBI said agents in Anchorage completed their interview with Santiago and called the police, who took him for a mental health evaluation.

The FBI's Anchorage field office said in a statement that it was aware Santiago was an Anchorage resident and that it was assisting in the investigation, but it declined to comment further.

The Broward County sheriff said 37 people were injured after the shooting incident, likely due to people scrambling and rushing out of the airport.

“A herd of people just started running down the way and trampling over people and, um, security yelled, 'Everybody hit the floor!'" Fugleberg said. "He did nothing but swing the gun and shoot."

The Transportation Security Administration rules prohibit guns in carry-on bags, but they allow passengers to ship guns if they are unloaded, put in a hard-sided, locked container that only the owner has the ability to unlock, and placed in a checked bag. Explosive or flammable ammunition such as gun powder is banned, but bullets are legal if carried in checked baggage.

According to the TSA's website: "You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage."

That means gun owners can't get to their weapons during a flight but can easily retrieve and load them after claiming their checked bags.

"This guy found a way to exploit a weakness in the system," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst in San Francisco.

A ban on shipping guns in luggage would hurt law-abiding hunters, he said, "but I don't think the TSA and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) can ignore what happened. How many airline passengers today are worried that they are vulnerable?"

This is not the first shooting using weapons in checked baggage. In 1972, three members of the Japanese Red Army terror group retrieved guns and grenades from their bags after landing in Tel Aviv, Israel and killed 26 people.

"This guy followed the script from 1972," said Jeffrey Price, an aviation-security expert who teaches at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Price said that banning guns in luggage might have prevented Friday's attack but wouldn't stop a determined killer.

"What's to stop him from driving to the airport, parking his car, getting his gun and going into the airport and shooting people?" Price said.

A TSA spokesman referred The Associated Press to the agency's current rules but declined to comment further, including on whether Friday's shooting would lead to a review of those rules.

The TSA does not track the number of guns that passengers place in checked bags, but it is not a rare practice. Most airlines detail their gun-carrying policies on their websites. Santiago had flown out of Anchorage, Alaska. Many hunters from the Lower 48 visit Alaska. The state's Fish and Game Department also describes on its site how to travel with guns.

Price noted that passengers wishing to check guns must declare them and show that they are unloaded. He said airlines often have the gun inspected by TSA officers in another part of the airport. It's enough of an inconvenience, he said, that he tells hunters to mail or use a delivery service to ship the gun to their destination.

The TSA has been confiscating more guns from carry-on bags. Screeners took away 2,653 guns in 2015, up 20 percent from 2014. The TSA frequently tweets photos of the arsenal that it scoops up at checkpoints.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.