Fort Lauderdale Update: Alleged Gunman Says He Planned the Attack; Motive Still Under Investigation
The alleged gunman in a shooting rampage at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on January 6—Esteban Santiago, age 26—acknowledged to law enforcement officers that he planned the attack, but the motive remains under investigation. At this early stage of the investigation, nothing has been ruled out, including terrorism, according to the FBI. According to the criminal complaint, Santiago said he purchased a one-way ticket from Anchorage, Alaska, to Fort Lauderdale. His only luggage was a checked box that contained a 9-mm handgun and two magazines. He said when he claimed the box, he went to a restroom near the baggage claim area, loaded the gun, then left the restroom and shot the first people he encountered. Santiago went to South Florida for the specific purpose of conducting this attack, but investigators do not yet know what caused him to choose that location.
Santiago has been charged with federal offenses, including performing an act of violence at an airport serving international civil aviation that caused serious bodily injury. If convicted, he could potentially face the death penalty.
Santiago is a native of New Jersey, but since infancy, he has resided mainly in Puerto Rico and Alaska. Investigators have interviewed family members in Union City (Hudson County). Union City police said in a Twitter message on January 6, “Union City Police assisting the FBI reference to Ft. Lauderdale shooting. No specific threats or links to Union City.”
Truck Attack in Jerusalem Kills Four Soldiers
In Jerusalem, a truck rammed into a group of Israeli soldiers on January 8, killing four officer cadets—three of them women—and wounding about 17 others. The driver, who has been identified as a resident of East Jerusalem, was shot dead. HAMAS praised the attack as a “heroic operation” but did not claim responsibility for it. Vehicle attacks have been common in the wave of Palestinian violence since September 2015.
ISIS Declares War on Turkey
In the claim of responsibility for the attack on a New Year’s Eve celebration in Istanbul, Turkey, and in an article justifying the attack, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was harshly critical of the Turkish regime—in contrast to ISIS’ previous reluctance to claim responsibility for attacks in Turkey. The claim of responsibility for the attack on the nightclub in Istanbul stated that the attacker was answering the call of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “to target Turkey, the servant of the cross.” The article, published last week in the ISIS newsletter al-Naba, connected Baghdadi’s call to attack Turkey with the Turkish army’s participation in a military campaign in Syria, in the region north of Aleppo, and Turkish airstrikes and ground attacks against the town of al-Bab, about 40 miles northeast of Aleppo. The article claimed that the attack in Istanbul is “a severe blow to the apostate Turkish government.”
The attack at the Istanbul nightclub and the rhetoric following it indicate that ISIS is now in open warfare against Turkey. In the past, ISIS was less hostile toward Turkey, as the regime largely ignored the flow of fighters and supplies across the border to Syria. More recently, however, Turkey has tightened its control of the border. Last August, Turkey launched a military attack into northern Syria, to clear ISIS fighters out of the border area and to prevent Kurdish forces from consolidating their gains in the region. In October, Turkish-supported opposition forces captured the town of Dabiq, which is symbolically important in ISIS propaganda. Turkish airstrikes have been attacking al-Bab, and most recently, Turkey, Russia, and Iran brokered a ceasefire agreement in Syria that specifically excluded ISIS. In response to all this, ISIS is now taking the position that the Turkish government will pay a heavy price for its activities in Syria.