FBI: Bishop airport suspect tried to buy gun in U.S. - WNEM TV 5

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FBI: Bishop airport suspect tried to buy gun in U.S.

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Amor Ftouhi's mug shot (Source: CNN) Amor Ftouhi's mug shot (Source: CNN)
Jeff Neville (Source: LinkedIn) Jeff Neville (Source: LinkedIn)
Amazon Jungle Survival Knife Amazon Jungle Survival Knife
FLINT, MI (WNEM/AP) -

The FBI says a Canadian man from Tunisia may have chosen to attack a police officer in Flint simply because it has an international airport.

The stabbing at Bishop International Airport has been declared an "act of terror" by the FBI.

The incident happened about 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21 on the second floor of the airport's main terminal.

The suspect, Amor Ftouhi, stabbed Lt. Jeff Neville in the neck, the FBI said.

Neville was taken to Hurley Medical Center in critical condition but has since been upgraded to good condition.

Ftouhi will be charged with violence at an international airport, which is a 20-year penalty. The FBI said it is early in the investigation and it is likely Ftouhi will face additional charges.

The attack

Investigators said Ftouhi entered the United States illegally through Canada on June 16 in Lake Champlain, New York. He then drove a car to the Flint airport, the FBI said, adding he was in Michigan as early as June 18. 

His vehicle was found in the airport's parking lot.

Ftouhi attacked Neville from behind with a 12-inch knife that he purchased in the United States.

>>Listen: 911 call from Bishop airport stabbing<<

Dan Gelios, special agent for the FBI, said Ftouhi tried to purchase a gun while in the United States, but was denied because he's not a U.S. citizen.

The FBI has identified the kind of knife as an Amazon Jungle Survival Knife. Investigators said it had an 8-inch serrated blade. It's described as having a heavy, rugged saw back blade design with a razor-sharp stainless steel blade and a corrosion resistant finish. 

The product description calls it "the ultimate in survival knives." 

The suspect's two bags were found in the bathroom.

Investigators said there were more officers than normal present during the attack, because it happened minutes before law enforcement were set to hold a briefing inside the terminal.

The FBI is asking if you encountered Ftouhi on his trip to Michigan, or while in the Flint area, to call them at 313-965-2323, or email them by going to this site.

Who is Amor Ftouhi?

Amor Ftouhi. 49, lived In Montreal's working-class Saint-Michel district, home to many North African Muslims, with his wife and three children.

Ftouhi has lived in Montreal for 10 years, according to a pretrial services officer at his hearing.

>>Read more: Police search apartment where Ftouhi is believed to have lived<<

He worked on and off as a truck driver until about two weeks ago. His mother, three sisters and two brothers live in Tunisia; another sister resides in Switzerland.

>>Read more: His landlord said he was a model tenant who has children<<

Hakeem, an Algerian native who declined to give his last name, said his neighbor was "a kind person," and quiet. Ftouhi largely kept to himself, he said. The neighbor said he would see Ftouhi's children come and go.

"I said hello going up and down the stairs," Hakeem told CNN on Thursday. "We were neighborly."

Next-door neighbor Joassaint Guillaubert said he recalled hearing children running around, but did not know they were Ftouhi's children.

Both said they never saw the suspect's wife.

Ftouhi understands and speaks some English, but is mostly fluent in French.

"My first name is Amor and my last name is Ftouhi," he told the court.

>>Listen: Audio released from Amor Ftouhi court appearance<<

US Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis assigned a federal public defender to represent the suspect. Asked whether the information on his financial affidavit was truthful, Ftouhi the judge: "Yes, I tell the truth."

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly described Ftouhi as a "completely off-the-screen individual" and likened the airport stabbing to random terrorist attacks in Europe in recent months.

A law enforcement source told CNN that Ftouhi was not on the radar of US or Canadian authorities but said they were trying to determine whether he used an alias.

The FBI interviewed Ftouhi following the attack, where they learned "he has a hatred for the United States," which was part of his motive for the attack, the FBI said.

Ftouhi shouted "Allahu Akbar" before stabbing Neville, the FBI said. That statement means "God is great" in Arabic.

He also said something along the lines of "you have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and we are all going to die," the FBI said.

The FBI does not know why Ftouhi chose Bishop airport, but said he wanted to attack an international airport.

Ftouhi did not have any travel documents linking him to Flint. He also has no known association with anyone in the Flint area or Michigan, the FBI said.

Investigators said Ftouhi acted alone and they do not believe this was part of a wider plot, although the airport does have enhanced security measures in place. They have executed several search warrants, but would not get into specific details.

Investigators interviewed more than 20 witnesses and expect to conduct more interviews.

Ftouhi is currently being housed in the Midland County Jail.

>>Read more: Criminal complaint against Amor Ftouhi<<

He was made to wear a spit-guard face mask at a hearing Wednesday evening after spitting in the face of a Flint police officer, according to a law enforcement official.

He was ordered to remain in custody pending a full detention hearing next week.

Who is Officer Jeff Neville?

The airport officer, Jeff Neville, is a retired lieutenant from the Genesee County Sheriff's Office. He is currently employed by the Bishop Airport Public Safety.

Neville is a father and worked for the sheriff's office for 17 years before retiring, Sheriff Robert Pickell said, adding Neville is a highly decorated officer.

He is being hailed a hero for almost losing his life while trying to save others.

"He was good. I wish I had a dozen more like him," Pickell said.

Pickell said the department is sorry this happened to Neville.

"He's been a wonderful family man and he's a credit to not only the office of sheriff, but next to the police chief he's the highest-ranking law enforcement officer out there at the airport," Pickell said.

The community came together to pray for Neville and his family on Thursday. A fundraising page has also been set up to support Neville and his family.

>>Read more: Maintenance worker hailed as hero for saving Neville's life<<

Hospital officials gave an updated on Neville’s medical condition Friday morning. They said the knife allegedly used by Ftouhi to attack the officer was just millimeters away from severing his major artery. 

Neville was initially taken to the hospital in critical condition, but was last listed in good condition. Doctors said he is expected to be released this weekend, but it could be weeks before he is back to normal activities. 

Reaction

U.S. and Canadian authorities say they are cooperating in the investigation.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement he's "proud of the swift response" by authorities from both nations.

He said the act of terrorism will be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

>>Read more: Witness recalls aftermath of Bishop airport stabbing<<

Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a statement his government condemns "this heinous and cowardly attack."

Goodale added there has been "complete cooperation" between Canadian and U.S. authorities.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Michigan said the state's ports of entry have not changed in light of the airport incident.

"Vigilance is how we ensure the safety of all Americans. We are continuously watchful and alert to deter, detect and prevent threats to our nation," said Kris Grogran, public affairs officer for CBP.

City facilities were under "heightened" security after the attack on Wednesday. 

Steven Branch, chief of staff for Mayor Karen Weaver, said there was an added police presence at the city's water treatment facility.

Flint City Hall was also under heightened security as a precaution following the incident. The Flint police chief had stationed officers around the complex, but the hall remained open for business. 

Mayor Weaver released the following statement following the attack:  

“Right now we are still awaiting more information about the situation at Bishop Airport this morning. My thoughts and prayers are with all of our law enforcement officers who work to service and protect us each and every day. I want the public to know that several agencies are involved and working to ensure the situation is under control. However, at this time we are taking extra precautions just to be safe.” 

U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee released this statement:

This violent attack on a police officer at Bishop Airport is shocking and horrific. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies continue to investigate this as an act of terrorism in our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured officer, Lieutenant Jeff Neville, and his family. Jennifer and I join all Michigan residents in praying for Lieutenant Neville’s full recovery.

The Flint Islamic Center released this statement:

First and foremost, as a faith community, we pray for the full and speedy recovery of Lt. Jeff Neville, and offer any assistance that is needed to his family during this traumatic time. We state in no uncertain terms, that there is no place in civil society for violence against anyone. Lt. Neville was on duty at the Bishop airport when he was attacked, as a law enforcement officer whose duty it is to protect all travelers and airport employees, irrespective of their race, religion or gender.

We join hands with our interfaith partners to ensure that this tragic incident does not divide us as a community. This is a time for us to come together as a community, and not allow outside forces to instigate us to turn against one another. We here in Flint are a resilient community; we understand what it means to stand together, to struggle together, to protect one another, and to overcome together.

“What happened this morning was a despicable act of violence that cannot be justified under any circumstance,” said Dr. Mohammed Saleem, president of the Management Committee at FIC. “We as the people of Flint must remain united against such senseless acts of violence against anyone, and in particular against any law enforcement officers. We will not allow others with their own political agendas to divide us.”

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