A knife-wielding man who stabbed a police officer in the neck without warning at a Michigan airport Wednesday shouted, “Allahu akbar,” before the attack, and the event is being investigated as an act of terrorism, authorities said.
David Gelios, the FBI special agent in charge, said the assailant shouted the phrase, which is Arabic for “God is great,” before wounding the officer at Bishop International Airport in Flint.
Gelios said witnesses reported that the attacker also shouted words to the effect of, ââââââ“You killed people in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and we are all going to die.”
Police Lt. Jeff Neville of the airport’s Public Safety Department fought his attacker until the man was subdued. Neville underwent surgery and was reported to be in satisfactory condition.
Gelios, in a televised news conference, identified the assailant as Amor Ftouhi, 50, of Canada. Ftouhi entered the United States legally on June 16 at Lake Champlain, N.Y., he said.
The chief of the airport’s Public Safety Department, Chris Miller, said Ftouhi gave no warning and did not engage with Neville before he attacked him with a 8-inch-long blade. “He just started stabbing,” Miller said.
Miller said he was nearby when the attack began near the prescreening area and, along with three others, subdued the man as Neville fought back. “Lt. Neville never stopped fighting,” he said. He continued fighting until Ftouhi was in handcuffs, Miller said.
Gelios said that before the attack Ftouhi had wandered around public parts of the airport, just outside the Transportation Security Administration screening area. He was carrying bags, and went inside a restroom, where he left the bags. He came out and went after Neville, Gelios said.
So far, it appears that Ftouhi acted alone and did not have specialized training, but the investigation is continuing, Gelios said.
The airport was shut down for several hours as investigators combed the crime scene.
Justin Marshall, 36, was flying on Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to Bishop International Airport when the flight attendant told passengers that an incident had occurred and they wouldn’t be allowed to land right away. “We circled the airport for 20 minutes,” he said in a phone interview.
“They didn’t tell us right away what happened,” said Marshall, who lives about an hour north of Flint. He said the attendant then said the plane would still have to circle for an additional 15 minutes.
The attendant later said “that an individual had forced their way to a secure area of the airport,” he said. “We didn’t know a police officer had been stabbed until other passengers managed to go online.”
Marshall, who is vice president of advancement and alumni relations at Northwood University in Midland, Mich., said that after the flight landed, he and his fellow passengers had to wait about 45 minutes until they deplaned and were escorted by police officers and TSA agents.
He said about 20 police officers and TSA agents had lined the gate where the passengers waited to get their checked baggage.
“Everyone was calm and orderly and understanding of the situation,” he said. “We were mostly concerned about the officer.”
Expressions of support for Neville came from all over.
“My thoughts and prayers are with all of our law enforcement officers who work to service and protect us each and every day,” said Flint Mayor Karen Weaver. “I want the public to know that several agencies are involved and working to ensure the situation is under control.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said on Twitter: “As we wait to learn more about the incident at Bishop Airport, please keep the attacked officer in your thoughts & prayers.”
There is a relatively large Muslim population in Flint, and many residents describe their relationship with the greater community and law enforcement as generally positive. But with anti-Muslim incidents on the rise in the U.S. — and recent terrorist attacks overseas — some local residents worry about possible backlash against Muslims.
Muna Jondy, a spokeswoman for the Flint Islamic Center, estimated that there are as many as 3,000 Muslims in Flint. She said some are concerned that the attack on Neville will prompt retaliatory violence, especially as Muslims gather for late-night activities at mosques as the holy month of Ramadan winds down this weekend.
“Police chiefs here called Islamic centers in Flint asking how we are doing” and offered to provide extra security for evening prayers, Jondy said.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a leading Muslim civil rights organization, said acts of violence are often perceived differently depending on the perpetrator’s background or religion. Such a double standard exists, he said, particularly when the suspect is a Muslim or a person of color.
“If the attacker is white, it’s presumed as a lone man who has mental problems, but that doubt is not given to an alleged attacker who is Muslim,” he said. “There is a collective guilt assigned, as if the Muslim community must apologize for the action that we had nothing to do with.”
3:20 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the attack and the arrest of Amor Ftouhi.
1 p.m.: This article was updated to report the attacker shouted “God is great” in Arabic, according to a law enforcement source.
11:20 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from the FBI.
10:35 a.m.: This article was updated to identify of the injured officer as Jeff Neville.
10 a.m.: This article was updated to report the officer’s condition and to include a tweet from Gov. Rick Snyder.
8:55 a.m.: This article has been updated with a tweet from Michigan State Police and accounts from witnesses
This article was originally published at 7:55 a.m.