Stabbing suspect was caretaker, studied insurance sales
DETROIT (AP) — The Canadian man charged with stabbing a police officer at the Flint airport in a possible act of terrorism was a part-time caretaker at the Montreal apartment building where he lived and had once studied to sell insurance, a landlord and an insurance company spokesman said Thursday.
Amor Ftouhi kept the building stairwells clean and always paid his rent on time, his landlord told The Associated Press. The 49-year-old originally from Tunisia lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and children and “never made any trouble,” Luciano Piazza said.
Investigators are working to learn more about Ftouhi, whom they describe as a lone-wolf attacker who made his way to the seemingly random destination of Flint, a struggling Michigan city once known for its sprawling General Motors factories but now better known for lead-tainted water.
Once in the U.S., he unsuccessfully tried to buy a gun, but instead managed to buy a knife, David Gelios, head of the FBI in Detroit said Thursday. He did not elaborate.
Licensed gun dealers first must put purchasers through an electronic background check of U.S. law enforcement databases, which could make Canadians ineligible, said Brady Schickinger, director of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners.
The attack Wednesday at Bishop International Airport, about 50 miles (80.46 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, was being investigated as an act of terrorism, but authorities said they have no indication that the suspect was involved in a “wider plot,” Gelios said.
Ftouhi, a dual citizen of Canada and Tunisia, stabbed airport police Lt. Jeff Neville with a large knife after yelling “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great.” According to the FBI, Ftouhi said something similar to “you have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are all going to die.”
He was immediately taken into custody and was charged in a criminal complaint with committing violence at an airport. Acting U.S. Attorney Dan Lemisch said more charges are coming in the days ahead. Ftouhi is in custody and has a bond hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
He wanted to identify an international airport, but, Gelios said, authorities “have absolutely no indication that he had any association with anyone in the Flint area or, thus far, in Michigan.”
Ftouhi was “neither on the radar of Canadian authorities or FBI or United States authorities,” Gelios said.
The suspect indicated to court officials that he has lived in Canada for 10 years and has three children. A pretrial services officer told a judge that he had worked on and off as a truck driver. He indicated “no mental or physical health problems and no drug or alcohol use,” the officer, Linsey Carson, said.
Meanwhile, Neville was “doing well” at a hospital, airport Director Craig Williams said Thursday.
Investigators have no information to suggest that the suspect received any training, Gelios said.
Ftouhi’s Facebook page reveals little about him. He has three friends and appeared several years ago to enjoy playing a Facebook video game called Army Attack. His only postings in the past four years are a pair of Arabic-language YouTube videos — one discussing ways to memorize the Quran and another showing how to prevent someone from swallowing their tongue.
His page also lists that he worked for a Canadian insurance company called Industrial Alliance. A company spokesman said he was studying to become a sales representative but left after five months before obtaining his certificate.
Police in Canada were searching a Montreal apartment. Montreal police spokesman Benoit Boiselle said officers were assisting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the search on behalf of an FBI request.
Three people staying at the residence had been taken in for questioning, Boiselle said.
Mohcin Asrii, a 27-year-old student who lived directly below Ftouhi’s third-floor apartment, expressed shock that a middle-aged man with a wife and three children could be accused of carrying out the stabbing.
“I knew him well enough to say hello, not much more than that,” he told AP. “He came across as strict, quiet. He walked with his head down.”
The Villeray-St Michel-Parc Extension borough where Ftouhi lived is a large, ethnically diverse Montreal neighborhood, with almost half of its 142,000 residents born outside Canada, according to city figures. Almost 8,000 claim Arabic as their first language.
North African emigrants often choose to settle in the French-speaking province of Quebec, drawn by its immigration policies that favor francophone applicants.
Investigators said they also want to know more about Ftouhi’s movements within the U.S.
He legally entered the U.S. at Champlain, New York, on June 16 and was in Michigan by at least June 18, said Gellios, who would not say whether Ftouhi entered the U.S. under a so-called trusted traveler program.
He spent some time in public, unsecured areas of the airport before going to a restroom where he dropped two bags before attacking the officer with a 12-inch knife that had an 8-inch serrated blade, Gelios said.
Neville “fought him to the end,” managing to stop the stabbing and bring Ftouhi to the ground as other officers arrived to help, according to Chris Miller, the airport police chief.
Ftouhi asked an officer who subdued him why he did not kill him, according to the criminal complaint. Police described him as “cooperative” and said he was talking to investigators.
Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub, Mike Householder and Corey Williams in Detroit; Ashraf Khalil and Tammy Webber in Chicago; Kenneth Thomas in Washington; Sadie Gurman in Phoenix, Arizona; and freelance writer Patrick Lejtenyi in Montreal also contributed to this report.