French police clash with youths at protest rally, arrest eight

Clouds of tear gas surround youths as they face off with French police during a demonstration against police brutality after a young black man, 22-year-old youth worker named Theo, was severely injured during his arrest earlier this month, in Paris, France, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) – Hundreds of French high-school students staged an unauthorized anti-police rally on Thursday, blocking the entrances to a dozen schools in Paris in the latest in a series of protests over the alleged rape of a young black man with a police baton.

Police reported eight arrests after isolated skirmishes with youths who hurled objects and damaged property on the fringes of what otherwise appeared to have been a relatively peaceful demonstration.

The protest comes two months before a presidential election where far-right leader Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party, is tipped to win the first round but lose the runoff vote that takes place on May 7.

The Paris school authority said more than 10 schools had been targeted by youths who piled up rubbish bins and other objects at the entrance gates. In one case, a deputy school director was injured when protesters hurled a fire extinguisher.

The protesters are angry over the alleged rape of the 22-year-old man during a Feb. 2 arrest in an area north of Paris where large numbers of immigrants live. The man, identified only as Theo, remains in hospital with injuries to his anus and head.

He has called for public calm and his family has said they have faith in the French justice system.

One of the banners carried at Thursday’s rally read “Revenge for Theo!”

Social media networks showed signs of skirmishes on the fringes of the rally in the Place de la Nation square in the east of Paris, where riot police in protective gear advanced on groups of mostly-hooded youths in sidestreet confrontations.

A helicopter flew overhead and tear gas clouds rose into the air above that square toward the end of the rally.

The Paris police department had warned people to stay away from the protest, saying it was not authorized and that there was a risk of violent groups causing trouble, as happened over the last three weeks.

Four police officers have been suspended pending an inquiry into the Feb. 2 incident. One has been placed under formal investigation for suspected rape and three others for unnecessary use of force.

So far the protests have not snowballed to the extent of the unrest that 12 years ago drew global attention to the stark contrast between wealthy Paris and the suburbs that surround it.

(Writing by Brian Love; additional reporting by Gerard Bon and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Friend to plead guilty to aiding San Bernardino gunman: prosecutors

Weapons and evidence of San Bernardino shooting

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A California man accused of buying assault-style rifles used by a married couple to massacre 14 people at a government office in San Bernardino in 2015 has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Enrique Marquez Jr., 25, will plead guilty to conspiring with Syed Rizwan Farook in 2011 and 2012 to attack a community college and commuters on a Southern California freeway, prosecutors said.

Marquez, a friend and former neighbor of Farook, has also agreed to plead guilty to making false statements about his purchase of two assault rifles used in the 2015 shooting rampage at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center.

Marquez was scheduled to enter his pleas, part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, at a hearing on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

“This defendant collaborated with and purchased weapons for a man who carried out the devastating December 2, 2015 terrorist attack that took the lives of 14 innocent people, wounded nearly two dozen, and impacted our entire nation,” U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in a written statement announcing the plea deal.

Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, opened fire at a holiday gathering of Farook’s co-workers on Dec. 2, 2015, killing 14 people and wounding 22.

Farook, the U.S.-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and Malik, a Pakistani native he married in Saudi Arabia in 2014, died in a shootout with police four hours after the massacre.

Authorities have said the couple were inspired by Islamist extremism. It was one of the deadliest attacks by militants in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks.

Prosecutors say Marquez and Farook, who were childhood friends, plotted attacks together in 2011 and 2012 that were never carried out and it was during that time that Marquez purchased the two rifles that Farook and Malik ultimately used in San Bernardino.

Marquez did not take part in the San Bernardino massacre but was arrested about two weeks later and has remained in custody ever since.

He also faces immigration fraud charges in connection with his marriage to Russian-born Mariyah Chernykh, which prosecutors say was a sham.

Chernykh, 26, and Farook’s brother, Syed Raheel Farook, 31, pleaded guilty in January to immigration fraud charges stemming from the marriage.

(This version of the story corrects first paragraph to read “conspiring to provide” instead of “providing” to comply with official correction from United States Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles)

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney and Andrew Hay)

Malaysia detains woman, seeking others in connection with North Korean murder

Kim Jong Nam arriving at Beijing Airport

By Ju-min Park and A. Ananthalakshmi

SEOUL/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian police on Wednesday detained a woman holding Vietnam travel papers and are looking for a “few” other foreign suspects in connection with the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother, police said.

Lawmakers in South Korea had earlier cited their spy agency as saying it suspected two female North Korean agents had murdered Kim Jong Nam, and U.S. government sources also told Reuters they believed North Korean assassins were responsible.

The portly and gregarious Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, was assaulted on Monday morning in the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport and died on the way to hospital, Malaysian police said.

The woman detained at Kuala Lumpur airport was identified from CCTV footage at the airport and was alone when she was apprehended, police said in a statement.Media had earlier published a grainy CCTV-captured image of a young woman wearing a white shirt with the letters “LOL” on the front.

Documents she carried were in the name of Doan Thi Huong, showed a birth date of May 1998 and birthplace of Nam Dinh, Vietnam, police said.

“Police are looking for a few others, all foreigners,” Deputy Inspector-General Noor Rashid Ibrahim told Reuters, declining to give their nationalities or gender.

South Korean intelligence believes Kim Jong Nam was poisoned, the lawmakers in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, said.

The spy agency told them that the young and unpredictable North Korean leader had issued a “standing order” for his half-brother’s assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.

“The cause of death is strongly suspected to be a poisoning attack,” said South Korean lawmaker Kim Byung-kee, who was briefed by the spy agency.

Kim had been at the airport’s budget terminal to catch a flight to Macau on Monday when someone grabbed or held his face from behind, after which he felt dizzy and sought help at an information desk, Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat said.

According to South Korea’s spy agency, Kim Jong Nam had been living, under Beijing’s protection, with his second wife in the Chinese territory of Macau, the lawmakers said. One of them said Kim Jong Nam also had a wife and son in Beijing.

Kim had spoken out publicly against his family’s dynastic control of the isolated state.

“If the murder of Kim Jong Nam was confirmed to be committed by the North Korean regime, that would clearly depict the brutality and inhumanity of the Kim Jong Un regime,” South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also acting president, told a security meeting.

The meeting was called in response to Kim Jong Nam’s death, news of which first emerged late on Tuesday.


South Korea is acutely sensitive to any sign of instability in isolated North Korea, and is still technically in a state of war with its impoverished and nuclear-armed neighbor, which carried out its latest ballistic missile test on Sunday.

Malaysian police said Kim held a passport under the name Kim Chol, with a birth date that made him 46.

Kim Jong Nam was known to spend a significant amount of time outside North Korea, traveling in Macau and Hong Kong as well as mainland China, and has been caught in the past using forged travel documents.

His body was taken on Wednesday to a second hospital, where an autopsy was being performed. North Korean embassy officials had arrived at the hospital and were coordinating with authorities, police sources said.

There was no mention of Kim Jong Nam’s death in North Korean media.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said China was aware of the reports and closely following developments.

Yoji Gomi, a Japanese journalist who wrote a 2012 book on Kim Jong Nam, said Kim’s media appearances, which increased around the time South Korean intelligence said he was targeted for assassination, may have been an attempt to protect himself.

“I now have the impression that even he may have had a sense of danger, so he began exposing himself in the media and stating his opinions to protect himself and counter North Korea,” Gomi told a talk show on Japan’s NTV.

North Korean agents have killed rivals abroad before.

South Korea’s spy agency said Kim Jong Nam wrote a letter to Kim Jong Un in 2012 asking that the lives of him and his family be spared, one of the lawmakers said.

“Kim Jong Un may have been worried about more and more North Korean elites turning against him after Thae Yong Ho defected to the South,” said Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on the North Korean leadership at Dongguk University in Seoul, referring to last year’s defection by North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London.

Numerous North Korean officials have been purged or killed since Kim Jong Un took power following his father’s death in 2011. Those include his uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was considered the country’s second most-powerful person and was believed to have been close to Kim Jong Nam.

Jang was executed on Kim Jong Un’s orders in 2013.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park, Cynthia Kim, Hyunjoo Jin and Yun Hwan Chae in SEOUL, Joseph Sipalan, Praveen Menon and Emily Chow in KUALA LUMPUR, and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Writing by Tony Munroe and John Chalmers)

Duterte targets Philippine children in bid to widen drug war

boys undergoing drug rehabilitation in Philippines

By Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall

MANILA (Reuters) – Before Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs had even begun, allies of the Philippines president were quietly preparing for a wider offensive. On June 30, as Duterte was sworn in, they introduced a bill into the Philippine Congress that could allow children as young as nine to be targeted in a crackdown that has since claimed more than 7,600 lives.

The bill proposes to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old to prevent what it calls “the pampering of youthful offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.”

“You can ask any policeman or anyone connected with the law enforcement: We produce a generation of criminals,” Duterte said in a speech in Manila on December 12. Young children, he said, were becoming drug runners, thieves and rapists, and must be “taught to understand responsibility.”

The move to target children signals Duterte’s determination to intensify his drug war, which faces outrage abroad and growing unease at home. The president’s allies say his support in Congress will ensure the bill passes the House of Representatives by June.

The House would approve the bill “within six months,” said Fredenil Castro, who co-authored the legislation with the speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez. It might face opposition in the Senate, but would prevail because of Duterte’s allies there, added Castro.

National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa recently announced that he was suspending anti-narcotics operations, which have killed more than 2,500 people, while the force rids itself of corrupt cops. The announcement came after it emerged last month that drug squad officers had killed a South Korean businessman at national police headquarters.

The killing of drug suspects has continued, albeit at a slower pace, with most following the pattern of killings that police have blamed on vigilantes. Human rights monitors believe vigilantes have killed several thousand people and operate in league with the police – a charge the police deny.

Duterte has signaled he intends to continue his drug war. In late January, he said the campaign would run until his presidency ends in 2022.


Lowering the age of criminality was justified, Castro told Reuters, because many children were “in cahoots with drug users, with drug pushers, and others who are related to the drug trade.” He said he based his support for the bill on what he saw from his car and at churches – children begging and pickpocketing. “For me, there isn’t any evidence more convincing than what I see in every day of my life,” he said.

A controversial bill to restore the death penalty, another presidential priority, is also expected to pass the House of Representatives by mid-year, according to Duterte allies in Congress.

Supporters of the bill to lower the age of criminality say holding young children liable will discourage drug traffickers from exploiting them. Opponents, including opposition lawmakers and human rights groups, are appalled at a move they say will harm children without evidence it will reduce crime.

There is also resistance inside Duterte’s administration. A member of Duterte’s cabinet who heads the Department of Social Welfare and Development opposes the move. And a branch of the police responsible for protecting women and children disputes the claim that children are heavily involved in the drug trade – a claim not supported by official data.

Opponents warn that lowering the age of criminality would further strain a juvenile justice system that is struggling to cope. At worst, they say, with a drug war raging nationwide, the bill could legitimize the killing of minors.

“What will stop them from targeting children?” said Karina Teh, a local politician and child rights advocate in Manila. “They are using the war on drugs to criminalize children.”


The drug-war death toll includes at least 29 minors who were either shot by unidentified gunmen or accidentally killed during police operations from July to November 2016, according to the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC) and the Network Against Killings in the Philippines, both Manila-based advocacy groups.

Dela Rosa said the Philippine National Police “fully supports” the new bill. It is “true and supported by data” that minors are used by drug traffickers because they can’t be held criminally liable, the police chief said in a submission to the House of Representatives.

Some police officers working on the streets agree with Dela Rosa. In Manila’s slums, children as young as six act as lookouts for dealers, shouting “The enemy is coming!” when police approach, said Cecilio Tomas, an anti-narcotics officer in the city. By their early teens, some become delivery boys and then dealers and users, said Tomas.

Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s chief legal counsel, said the bill would protect children by stopping criminals from recruiting them. “They will not become targets simply because they will no longer be involved,” he said.

Child rights experts say the legislation could put children in the firing line. They point to the deadly precedent set in the southern city of Davao, where Duterte pioneered his hard-line tactics as mayor. The Coalition Against Summary Execution, a Davao-based rights watchdog, documented 1,424 vigilante-style killings in the city between 1998 and 2015. Of those victims, 132 were 17 or younger.

For all but three years during that period, Duterte was either Davao’s mayor or vice-mayor. He denied any involvement in the killings.


Althea Barbon was one of the children killed in the current nationwide drug war. The four year old was fatally wounded in August when police in an anti-narcotics operation shot at her father, the two Manila-based advocacy groups said. Unidentified gunmen shot dead Ericka Fernandez, 17, in a Manila alley on October 26, police said. Her bloody Barbie doll was collected as evidence. And on December 28, three boys, aged 15 or 16, were killed in Manila by what police said were motorbike-riding gunmen.

If the bill passes, the Philippines won’t be the only country where the age of criminality is low. In countries including England, Northern Ireland and Switzerland it is 10, according to the website of the Child Rights International Network, a research and advocacy group. In Scotland, children as young as eight can be held criminally responsible, but the government is in the process of raising the age limit to 12.

Critics of the Philippines’ bill say lower age limits are largely found in countries where the legal systems, detention facilities and rehabilitation programs are more developed.

Statistics from the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the government’s top anti-narcotics body, appear to contradict the Duterte camp’s claim that there is a large number of young children deeply involved in the drug trade.

There were 24,000 minors among the 800,000 drug users and dealers who had registered with the authorities by November 30, according to police statistics. But less than two percent of those minors, or about 400 children, were delivering or selling drugs. Only 12 percent, or 2,815, were aged 15 or younger. Most of the 24,000 minors were listed as drug users.

The number of minors involved in the drug trade is “just a small portion,” said Noel Sandoval, deputy head of the Women and Children’s Protection Center (WCPC), the police department that compiled the data.

The WCPC is not pushing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, said Sandoval, but if the age is to be lowered, his department recommends a minimum age of 12, not 9.

Between January 2011 and July 2016, 956 children aged six to 17 were “rescued nationwide from illegal drug activity,” according to PDEA. They were mostly involved with marijuana and crystal methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug also known as shabu, and were handed over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Of these, only 80 were under the age of 15.


Asked for evidence that younger children are involved in the drug trade, Duterte’s legal counsel Panelo said the president had data from “all intelligence agencies.” Panelo declined to disclose those numbers.

Among the opponents of the bill is a member of Duterte’s cabinet, Judy Taguiwalo, secretary of the DSWD. The legislation runs counter to scientific knowledge about child development and would result not in lower crime rates but in more children being detained, Taguiwalo wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives in October.

Hidden by a high wall topped with metal spikes, the Valenzuela youth detention center in northern Manila is already operating at twice its capacity. Its 89 boys eat meals in shifts – the canteen can’t hold them all at once – and sleep on mats that spill out of the spartan dorms and into the hallways.

The government-run center, which currently houses boys aged 13 to 17 for up to a year, is considered a model facility in the Philippines. Even so, said Lourdes Gardoce, a social worker at the Valenzuela home, “It’s a big adjustment on our part if we have to cater to kids as young as nine.”

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall. Edited by David Lague and Peter Hirschberg.)

Congo police kill at least four in dawn raid on separatist cult

FILE PHOTO: A resident holds up a Bundu dia Kongo manifesto left behind after a police crackdown on the religious and political movement in Matadi, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo's volatile Bas Congo province, March 18, 2008.REUTERS/Joe Bavier/File Photo

By Aaron Ross and Benoit Nyemba

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Congo police made a pre-dawn raid on a separatist group in Kinshasa on Tuesday, killing four people but failing to arrest their leader, a self-styled religious prophet, witnesses and group members said.

Dozens of armed police stormed the home of Ne Muanda Nsemi, leader of Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), a religious cult that seeks to revive the pre-colonial Kongo kingdom that flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo river.

Police have clashed with BDK members several times in the past few weeks in their western heartland of Kongo Central province, but the spread of violence to the capital, hundreds of kilometres (miles) away, is a serious escalation.

It also adds to wider tensions across Congo since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down after his mandate expired in December, raising fears of a slide back into civil war.

“We are looking for (Muanda Nsemi). We are going to find him,” said Communications Minister Lambert Mende, without saying what he was accused of. He denied police had fired live ammunition.

Spokesman Pierre Mwanamputu said Muanda Nsemi’s supporters had participated in an “armed insurrectional movement” in Kinshasa on Monday.

Members of the BDK said the four fatalities were due to police preventing the wounded getting swift medical attention.

“There are four dead because they were not taken care of,” said Basangana Ndunga, president of BDK’s political wing. He said two other members had been killed in separate clashes in Kinshasa.

Residents think the raid may have been provoked by a video circulating on social media in which Muanda Nsemi appears to threaten Kabila.

However, it was unclear whether the BDK supporters in Kinshasa, who could be seen on the roofs of several buildings in their distinctive white robes and red head-dress, were armed.

Security forces killed more than 300 BDK members and bystanders in crackdowns on sometimes violent protests in 2007 and 2008, dumping their bodies in the Congo river or mass graves, rights groups say.

Separately, the United Nations said on Tuesday that soldiers targeting the Kamwina Nsapu militia group had killed at least 101 people between Feb. 9 and Feb. 13 in central Congo.

(Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Texas mosque fire called arson, reward offered: ATF

arson fire on islamic center mosque in texas

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A January fire that gutted a Texas mosque has been ruled arson, with a reward of up to $30,000 offered for tips leading to arrests, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said on Wednesday.

The fire at the Victoria Islamic Center, about 125 miles (200 km) southwest of Houston, was started just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily barring travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Authorities have found no evidence linking the fire with the order.

U.S. Islamic rights groups have said they saw the fire as part of a growing wave of bigotry toward Muslims in the country.

“Houses of worship are a sacred place in this country, and ATF is committed to devoting the necessary resources to solving this crime,” Fred Milanowski, the special agent in charge of the ATF Houston Field Division, said in a statement.

The fire destroyed the building and caused about $500,000 in damages, the ATF said. The Houston Field Division of the ATF, the Victoria Islamic Center and Crime Stoppers are offering rewards of up to $10,000 each, the ATF said.

An online campaign to rebuild the mosque has raised more than $1 million.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Eleven arrested during protest against conservative comedian at NYU

NYU sweatshirt

(Reuters) – Eleven people have been arrested outside New York University during a heated protest against a conservative comedian who gave a speech at the school, police said on Friday.

A group that organized the protest against Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes said he was known for using incendiary language, according to local media.

McInnes said on Twitter he had been sprayed with pepper spray, but “being called a Nazi burned way more.”

The protesters face charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and criminal mischief after they were taken into custody during a demonstration against McInnes, who made an appearance at the university late on Thursday, a New York City Police Department spokesman said.

Protesters scuffled with police officers and McInnes supporters outside the university’s student center in New York City, where he was invited to speak by NYU College Republicans, local media reported.

The arrests came a day after protesters smashed windows and set fires at University of California at Berkeley during a demonstration against the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly headed by presidential adviser Steve Bannon.

NYU College Republicans on Facebook described McInnes as a Canadian writer, actor and comedian who has appeared on Fox News and The Blaze.

“Our intention was not to advocate for McInnes’s views, in fact many of us differ with him when it comes to certain ideas,” the group said in a statement posted on social media. “The purpose of this event was to promote free speech and not to promote certain ideas.”

Student Tamara Fine said to an NBC affiliate: “I’m dumbfounded that NYU would invite somebody who is a hate speaker.”

McInnes’ speech was cut short when protesters rushed into the room where he was speaking and began interrupting him, NYU spokesman John Beckman told News 4 New York, a NBC affiliate reported.

Early on Friday, President Donald Trump appeared to weigh in on recent protests, tweeting: “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Eric Walsh in Washington; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Bernadette Baum)

Florida man found guilty of Islamic State-inspired bomb plot

(Reuters) – A Florida man was convicted on Tuesday of plotting to set off a bomb at a public beach in an act that prosecutors said was inspired by the militant group Islamic State.

Harlem Suarez, 25, was found guilty at trial of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and providing material support to terrorists. He faces up to life in prison at his sentencing.

Federal agents employed a paid informant to communicate with Suarez after he promoted Islamic State on Facebook, according to court documents. Suarez decided he wanted to build a nail-filled bomb that he would bury at a beach in Key West and detonate remotely, prosecutors said.

He gave the informant components, including nails, and was arrested after he took possession of what he believed was an explosive device from the informant in July 2015, authorities said.

His defense lawyer argued that he was goaded into the plot by the informant, and Suarez took the stand to tell jurors he was merely playing along, according to local media reports. The Cuban-born Suarez came to the United States as a young boy with his family.

U.S. prosecutors have charged more than 100 individuals since 2013 with Islamic State-related crimes.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by James Dalgleish)

NY man linked to Islamic State gets 20 years prison for New Year’s Eve plot

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – An upstate New York man was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State, in connection with his alleged role in preparing a New Year’s Eve attack in 2015 at a local club or bar.

Emanuel Lutchman, 26, of Rochester, was sentenced by Chief Judge Frank Geraci of the federal court in that city, following his August 11 guilty plea, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The prison term was the maximum possible, and Lutchman was also sentenced to 50 years of supervised release. He has been in custody since his Dec. 30, 2015 arrest.

A federal public defender representing Lutchman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to his plea agreement, Lutchman admitted to having bought a machete, knives, ski masks and other items for his attack, in which he was prepared to kidnap or kill people, and planned to later release a video explaining his actions.

The defendant also admitted to having conspired with Abu Issa Al-Amriki, a now deceased member of Islamic State in Syria, hoping that a successful attack would help him gain membership into the group, the Justice Department said.

Lutchman had also expressed support for Islamic State on social media, and gathered issues of Inspire, an online magazine published by al Qaeda, designed to help people conduct “‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks” in the United States, the department added.

The defendant was arrested soon after recording a video in which he pledged allegiance to Islamic State, vowed to “spill the blood” of non-believers, and asked Allah to “make this a victory.”

Lutchman’s lawyer had sought a 10-year prison term.

In a court filing, he said Lutchman had since age 14 had “extensive” mental health issues including bipolar disorder and depression, and was easily influenced by radical Islam, but has now “renounced” Islamic State and “seen its empty promise.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

Florida airport shooting suspect indicted on 22 criminal counts

law enforcement walk at ft. lauderdale airport

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – A federal grand jury has indicted on 22 criminal counts an Iraq war veteran suspected of killing five people in a mass shooting at a Florida airport this month, U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday.

Esteban Santiago, 26, is accused of opening fire in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport on Jan. 6. The charges against him include multiple counts of violence at an airport resulting in death and injury, as well as firearms crimes.

If convicted, he could be punished by life imprisonment or death. The U.S. Attorney General has not decided whether to seek a death sentence, the prosecutors office said.

The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Broward County, Florida, where the attack occurred, prosecutors in the U.S. Southern District of Florida said in a news release.

Authorities said Santiago aimed at victims’ heads and bodies until he ran out of ammunition and was taken into custody. Five people were killed in the attack and six others wounded.

The indictment accuses Santiago of “substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person.”

The attack was the latest in a series of deadly U.S. mass shootings, some inspired by Islamist militants, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed.

Santiago had a history of erratic behavior. Authorities have said they were investigating whether mental illness played a role in the shooting.

Court records show he is being represented by a public defender. A representative answering calls for the office said it had no immediate comment.

An arraignment hearing in Santiago’s case is scheduled in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Monday.

A private first class in the National Guard who served in Iraq from 2010 to 2011, Santiago traveled from Alaska to Florida on a one-way airline ticket with a handgun and ammunition in his checked luggage, according to authorities.

Upon arrival, he claimed his gun case and loaded the weapon in a men’s bathroom, investigators said in a criminal complaint. He opened fire on the first people he saw after leaving the restroom, it said.

Santiago told investigators he was inspired by Islamic State and had previously chatted online with Islamist extremists, according to FBI testimony presented in court.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and James Dalgleish)