FBI believes Flint suspect acted alone
The FBI releases photographs and more information about Amor M. Ftouhi, the suspect at the center of the possible terrorism attack. David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Detroit — Federal authorities investigating the suspect in a possible terrorist attack at Bishop International Airport in Flint believe the man acted alone.
“We have no information to suspect the attack was part of a wider plot or suspect he was aided or had associates,” said David Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Detroit, at a press briefing Thursday afternoon.
Federal law enforcement officials gathered Thursday afternoon to update their multi-national investigation into Amor Ftouhi, who is accused of stabbing an airport police officer on Wednesday.
Authorities say the 49-year-old Tunisian national living in Montreal traveled to the United States legally from Canada on June 16, entering through Lake Champlain, New York, and then entered Michigan as early as June 18.
Ftouhi had no travel documents to suggest he was planning travel to and from Flint, Gelios said.
Gelios added he wouldn’t comment why the attacker chose Flint but acknowledged “he did want to identify an international airport.”
Dan Lemisch, acting U.S. Attorney in Detroit, said the case remains under investigation but provided some new details alongside Gelios.
Ftouhi unsuccessfully attempted to buy a gun in the United States but Gelios would not say if the attempt was made in Macomb County, but the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens issued a statement Thursday.
"This is an active investigation by the FBI and Gibraltar Trade Center is cooperating completely," according to a statement from the trade center. "Any statements or details must come from the proper law enforcement officials."
Lemisch added additional charges are likely against Ftouhi.
“I don’t want to predict what evidence will show. If there is evidence this was an act of terrorism, there will be terrorism charges,” Lemisch said
They did acknowledge authorities found the suspect’s vehicle at Flint’s airport.
Earlier in the day, airport officials reassured travelers they’ll be safe there.
“You are in safe hands,” said Christopher Miller, the airport’s director of public safety, during a news conference at the airport. “I’m proud of the aviation security system we have in America, and I’m proud of the people who take that work here at Bishop Airport. I think ‘Get on that plane and fly’ because just like normal, you’re going to be safe.”
In the meantime, the airport is back to normal operations, he said.
Miller’s comments came about a day after Ftouhi allegedly stabbed Lt. Jeff Neville and yelled “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic.
Authorities say Ftouhi attacked Neville, who was in full uniform, before 9:40 a.m. Wednesday, stabbing him in the neck with a 12-inch knife with a green handle and a black serrated blade marked “Amazon Jungle Survival Knife.” Authorities say Neville fought off his attacker for a minute as other police assisted in subduing the suspect.
“It’s a blessing we were able to restrain the individual quickly,” Miller said Thursday.
Miller praised an unnamed airport maintenance worker who helped restrain Ftouhi.
“I believe he saved Jeff’s life,” Miller said. “I’m proud of all of our responders, and I’m especially proud of him because he jumped out there and did something that’s courageous. I can’t thank him enough. I’m just very proud he’s part of this team.”
Officials said it’s too soon to tell whether the attack will prompt the airport to make permanent changes to its security protocols.
“We will be reviewing this (incident) and where we go from there, we’ll judge if we make any long-term changes,” Miller said. “In the immediate, we haven’t decided on making any permanent changes.”
Miller also said Thursday the airport has stepped up security.
“We’ve got some enhanced security measures in place right now and additional resources that you can see around the facility,” Miller said.
He said officials from several law enforcement agencies were scheduled to attend a 10 a.m. meeting at the airport when the attack happened Wednesday. The meeting was about an incident involving an unattended bag at the facility that happened a couple of weeks ago.
“So in some way, the good Lord was looking over all of us because we had a lot of resources that were on site and already on the way to the airport,” he said.
Lt. Dan Owen with the airport’s Fire and Rescue Department said he was in room where the meeting was to be held and could hear the attack happen.
“We heard it, saw it and then responded appropriately,” he said. “We heard some screaming and wrestling right outside the meeting area.”
Owen said he helped restrain Ftouhi. He said he couldn’t provide further details of the incident. He said seeing a good friend and colleague being attacked and stopping it was the only thing going through his mind at the time of the incident.
“It was a terrible act of violence,” Owen said.
The lieutenant said he immediately administered first aid to Neville with help from other staffers. He summoned emergency medical technicians, and they arrived within 90 seconds, he said.
Owen also said he saw Neville at the hospital Wednesday evening. He was in stable condition on Thursday.
“He’s doing great,” he said. “He’s in good spirits. His family is there. He’s got plenty of support from the airport.”
Neville has been with the airport since 2001 and became a lieutenant in 2006, he said.
“I can tell you he’s a great guy,” Miller said. “He’s well-loved by everybody here for his personality, his professionalism. That’s just not everybody who works here, that’s passengers and the public. He treats everybody with respect.”
Miller said the attack has shaken the airport’s personnel. The airport is offering staff help with coping with critical incident stress management, he said.
“When an incident happens, we’re no different than any other airport, park, city or anything like that,” he said. “It strikes at our core.”