WASHINGTON – Why hasn’t the deadly mass shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale airport been classified as an act of Islamic terrorism?
Review the known facts:
- Shortly after a bloody attack on Jan. 6 that killed five people and wounded six, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the shooter was carrying military ID with the name of Esteban Santiago. He told investigators he planned the attack and now faces federal charges involving murder, firearms and airport violence.
- The day after the shooting, the website GotNews published evidence showing the same Esteban Santiago had registered on MySpace in 2007 under the name Aashiq Hammad.
- He also posted a song identified as the Arabic recitation of the Muslim declaration of faith, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger,” generally considered sufficient to convert to Islam.
- ABC News reported on Jan. 9, that the FBI had taken that revelation seriously, examining Santiago’s laptop “to determine whether the alleged shooter created a jihadist identity for himself using the name Aashiq Hammad.”
- An Internet search showed ABC’s one report on the shooter’s jihadi identity appears to be the only mainstream media mention of Aashiq Hammad. Or his possible jihadi identity.
- With that one exception, the speculation in the media has focused entirely on whether the shooter was mentally unstable, not whether he was a jihadi, after it was learned the 26-year-old New Jersey-born Iraq veteran told the FBI in November that the CIA was forcing him to join ISIS and that he was hearing voices.
A focus on his mental stability is understandable. But why have the media paid virtually no attention to the suspect’s Islamic links? After all, one certainly need not be sane to be a jihadi.
Why is there such apparent reticence to label the attack an act of Islamic terrorism, when that is where the evidence points?
The media may be turning a blind eye, but the FBI’s silence could actually speak volumes, according to one of the nation’s top counter-terrorism experts.
Brig Barker recently retired after an exceptionally distinguished 20- year career as a counterterrorism agent with the FBI. He outlined the reasons why it seems to be just a matter of time before the incident is classified as Islamic terrorism, despite the media blackout.
“As is probably prudent,” he told WND, “the FBI will be cautious in labeling this act as Islamic terrorism. Doing such can cause issues with their liaison and informant recruitment in the Muslim community. Nevertheless, based on even the cursory information, this incident will most likely be listed in history as an Islamic terrorist event.”
Barker said the revelation that the suspect converted three years before his Iraq deployment speaks volumes and is not surprising.
“He most likely started down the radicalization road at some point soon thereafter. I would surmise the AWOL incidents were attributable to his conflicting views of the military’s mission in Muslim lands.”
The former FBI expert said the question is: What triggered his commitment to carrying out action as part of his faith? Barker speculated it could have been an event such as the suspect’s father dying while he was in Iraq.
“The early conversion works against the mental illness motive being promulgated by the family,” observed Barker. “It appears to be fairly clear that the motive was his belief in an extremist ideology.”
He warned, at this point, law enforcement must be diligent because of the possibility of triggering a similar event by those with similar beliefs.
Using his vast reservoir of experience and knowledge, Barker also shared a wealth of insights into what to look for as the investigation proceeds.
His resume reads like something out of a spy novel. Just some of the highlights include:
Barker spent the majority of his career on a Joint Terrorism Task Force with extensive overseas deployments, and was the primary Counterterrorism Interrogation instructor for the FBI Training Division for two years.
He conducted numerous counterterrorism deployments throughout Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the U.K. He is a highly respected Middle East and radicalization expert, Arabic speaker, and has been extensively published on counterterrorism matters.
In 1998, Barker deployed to Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda, as part of the Al Qaida East Africa Embassy bombings investigation. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, he deployed to Cairo, Egypt as part of the immediate investigation into the hijackers. In 2006, he was sent to Sierra Leone as the lone FBI agent to investigate allegations that profits from blood diamonds were being funneled to terrorist organizations
In 2010, Barker was hand-selected to embed as the Senior FBI Adviser at the Department of Defense Special Operations Command, where he advised U.S. military leadership on all major joint counterterrorism operations around the world.
Prior to the FBI, Barker spent five years as an Army Ranger and Jumpmaster qualified Army officer with the majority of his time in the 82nd Airborne. He deployed as a Weapons Company Executive Officer to Northern Iraq in 1991.
Barker gave WND a glimpse of the Ft. Lauderdale attack through his experienced eyes.
“There’s much more to this story than the immediate ‘mental illness’ cover story being promulgated by the media,” he began.
“If it was purely a mental illness issue, we wouldn’t see a self-posted picture of the assailant wearing a Shemagh (traditional Middle Eastern scarf,) a Salafi (strictly orthodox Sunni Muslim) cut beard, and holding up one finger as the unifying symbol for Jihad.”
Barker said the one finger symbol represents “Tawheed,” which is literally defined as monotheism in Arabic. That was what Barker called the “ignitor switch” for Wahabi founder, Ibn Abd Al Wahab. (Wahabism is the fundamentalist form of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia.)
“Tawheed has now become a prominent symbol for jihadists,” explained the radicalization expert.
Barker found the other salient issue to be the “walk in” at the FBI office.
“This, coupled with the aforementioned flags and indicators, would speak volumes on the behavioral analysis side. If it were strictly a mental illness issue, we wouldn’t have that Tawheed photo.”
Delving further into the suspect’s psyche, Barker observed, “Based on my cursory analysis, I believe he was conflicted or fearful about carrying out an attack of some sort. The walk in is a partial confession potentially seeking the plot’s disruption, allowing him an ‘out.’ This way, it provides him such an out both personally and if anybody else was aware of his intentions.”
Barker found another flag in the suspect’s military record and the fact the Pentagon stated he went AWOL on a couple occasions. The former special agent thought that could be an indicator that Santiago found himself in conflict with the mission of the military in Muslim countries, much like Nidal Hassan in the Fort Hood massacre.
The counterterrorism expert said additional flags included, of course, Santiago taking a Muslim name, seeking and consuming Islamic propaganda, and his propensity toward violence, as evidenced by a reported domestic violence incident. (Santiago was facing prosecution in Anchorage, Alaska, after police said he tried to strangle his 40-year-old girlfriend.)
Barker guessed that much more will come out in the next couple weeks.
“I’d love to know what Islamic propaganda he’d been consuming in that last week. That would provide great insight into his radicalization.”
Barker shared an interesting insight into the mind of an interrogator.
“I always evaluated an individual’s level of radicalization via the face-to-face interview. Generally, there would be a low grade level of radicalization awaiting a trigger to carry out action. That trigger is always the mystery and shrouded in unpredictability.”
Barker said the suspect’s family was certainly is trying to cover up his apparent radicalization with the mental illness issue, because, “Who would want to have the world view their son or brother as an Islamic terrorist?”
Bottom line? The expert says the Ft. Lauderdale attack was Islamic terrorism.
“America has been attacked by an Islamic terrorist, the flags are there, the history of indicators are there, and we must pause and understand the ideology and motivation behind it,” explained Barker.
But, he cautioned, that instead of focusing on the perpetrator, “we are getting caught up in the peripherals about security measures in the baggage claim area.”
Barker implied there more shoes to drop in the investigation, and he would not fault his former colleagues.
“I don’t see that the FBI failed, I see yet another situation wherein we realize this is a complex and shadowy enemy.”
And he portrayed the incident as another example of how far the country has yet to go in countering Islamic terror.
“The root of it lies in an ideology that we have yet to understand. What is the answer? I believe it’s much increased education at all levels of law enforcement, a more aggressive Department of Justice, and an opened environment where citizens feel comfortable calling out something suspicious.”