Following the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale Airport perpetrated by Esteban Santiago, which left five people dead and many others injured, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel took the opportunity to discuss his thoughts on gun policy, calling for tighter measures to ensure people with mental health issues do not have access to firearms. While that is indeed a noble goal, it is quite the opposite of the Sheriff’s policy of giving guns to radical Muslims and providing a gateway for other radicals – even those like Santiago, himself – to learn how to shoot them.
New Jersey-born and Puerto Rico-raised Esteban Santiago-Ruiz canceled his New Year’s flight plans to New York City and, instead, purchased a one-way ticket to Florida, where three of his siblings live. Prior to leaving his residence – a motel room he had rented in Anchorage, Alaska – he sold off his car and all of his possessions. That is, all of his possessions save for one, a Walther 9mm semi-automatic pistol, which rested inside of the only piece of baggage he checked for the flight to Florida, a handgun case.
On Friday, January 6th, upon arriving to the Fort Lauderdale Airport after a stopover in Minnesota, Santiago, an Iraq War Veteran, headed to the baggage claim area, retrieved his firearm, stepped inside a bathroom, loaded his firearm, and began shooting at people, aiming for their heads and causing panic throughout. He murdered five and wounded eight others.
Santiago’s motive for the attack has been called into question. Authorities are hesitant about calling the shooting an act of “terrorism.” They say they haven’t found any links to known terrorist groups. Yet, there is no doubt that this was in the very least terror-related. In November, Santiago visited the FBI in Anchorage and informed them that he was hearing voices telling him to join ISIS and to watch ISIS videos. A photo has been circulated of him sporting a thin beard and wearing a Middle Eastern keffiyeh (scarf) while flashing the ISIS one-fingered salute.
Santiago’s brother Bryan told reporters in Spanish that his brother is not Muslim and had been “born and raised Christian.” He said that the keffiyeh was only a souvenir that Santiago obtained while in Iraq. Santiago, a former member of the Alaska Army National Guard, had been deployed to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year there with the 130th Engineer Battalion clearing roads of improvised explosives and maintaining bridges.
However, as reported by Charles Johnson of gotnews.com, Santiago has a MySpace page, which he registered under the Muslim name Aashiq Hammad. On the page are three audio files that list “Aashiq” as the composer. One of the files is titled ‘La ilaha illAllah’ (translated: There is no deity but God), the beginning of the phrase that non-Muslims recite when they are converting to Islam. The file was uploaded to Santiago’s MySpace page in 2007, three years prior to him being sent to Iraq.
It appears, as well, that Santiago posted messages onto an “Explosives and Weapons Forum,” including one dialogue regarding the downloading of “E-Jihad videos” and “jihadi files.”
Following the attack, Sheriff Scott Israel of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) took center stage, as he led a press conference to go over general information about the shooting. Two days later, he gave an interview with the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, discussing his thoughts on gun violence. He stated, “A person suffering from mental illness, in my opinion, should not be able to buy, possess or carry a handgun or a rifle, any type of firearm… We shouldn’t be selling them weapons and allowing them to carry weapons.”
Of course, Sheriff Israel’s talk about mental illness is in reference to Santiago, who had, leading up to the attack, exhibited very erratic behavior, as witnessed by his family, neighbors and law enforcement. But while the Sheriff wishes to take guns out of the hands of mentally ill radicals associated with terror like Santiago, he, at the same time, wants to put them into the hands of other terror-related radicals.
In August 2014, Nezar Hamze, the Regional Operations Director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was sworn in as a Deputy Sheriff at BSO. On his application, which he handed in merely two months prior to his swearing in, he states that he was referred to the job by Scott Israel.
CAIR was created in June 1994 as part of an umbrella group led by then-global head of Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzook. CAIR has been named by the US government a co-conspirator for two federal trials dealing with the financing of millions of dollars to Hamas. Many representatives from CAIR have served prison time and/or have been deported from the US for terrorist-related activity. CAIR-Florida, itself, in July 2014, co-sponsored a pro-Hamas rally in Downtown Miami, where rally goers shouted, “We are Hamas,” “Let’s go Hamas,” and “Hamas kicked your ass.”
This past November and December, Hamze helped lead two CAIR-Florida banquets, where terror-related entities were on stage, in the hall, and in the audience. This includes one individual speaking at the December banquet, Hatim Naji Fariz, who was convicted of providing material support to associates of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
Sheriff Israel hired Hamze against the advice of all three BSO Majors who had evaluated Hamze during the hiring process. In May 2013, they unanimously signed a form stating, “At this time, I do not recommend Officer Hamze for employment…” Hamze was found to be lying on his polygraph exam about “use of illegal drugs” and about “buying illegal drugs.”
Not only did the Sheriff hire Hamze, but he formally allowed Hamze to keep his job at CAIR, as well. And since Hamze has been a Deputy Sheriff, he has used his position – and a large amount of time – to go on a mosque tour teaching fellow Muslim radicals how to use firearms, “Mosque Active Shooter Training.”
One of the many mosques Hamze did this training at was Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen (MJAM), located in Margate, Florida. MJAM’s imam Izhar Khan, who sat by Hamze’s feet as he taught, was arrested in May 2011 and spent the next 20 months in a federal detention center in Miami on charges of terrorism. As per the indictment against him, Khan worked with others “to collect and deliver money for the Pakistani Taliban… intending that they be used in preparation for and in carrying out… a conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim persons in a foreign country.”
Another mosque Hamze trained was the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton (ISSB). Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami al-Arian spoke at ISSB’s children’s school, and al-Arian’s PIJ colleagues, Mazen al-Najjar and Hussam Jubara, were prayer leaders at ISSB. A former imam of the mosque and fellow PIJ member, Muneer Arafat, said he was in favor of PIJ’s “goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state.” In January 2001, the ISSB newsletter, The Faith, announced that the mosque had raised $4000 for the family of Palestinian “martyrs.”
In November, when Santiago, an apparent radical Muslim, sought out the FBI, they confiscated his gun, the same gun that was used in the killing spree at the airport. Soon, though, the following month, the FBI returned the gun to him. Now, Santiago has been charged with murder and is facing the death penalty.
Sheriff Israel asked the question why Santiago was given the firearm back. It is a good question, and the Sheriff has the right to ask it.
But we too have a right to ask the Sheriff why he would put a gun into the hands of another Muslim fanatic, CAIR operative Nezar Hamze, who he has permitted to infiltrate BSO. And why would he allow that fanatic to teach radical mosques how to create new Esteban Santiagos – to put even more of us in danger?
Sheriff Israel cannot have it both ways. Such recklessness is inexcusable.
It is imperative that Sheriff Israel be held to account for his irresponsible behavior.
Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.