On January 26, 2017, Esteban Santiago, the (alleged) shooter in the Ft. Lauderdale airport attack, was indicted on 22 counts in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the 22 charges include 11 counts of performing an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that caused death or serious bodily injury; 6 counts of use and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence; and 5 counts of causing the death of a person through the use of a firearm.
Where are the terrorism charges?
The enlargement of federal criminal jurisdiction is well-known and not the subject of this article. It stems from at least two important factors: the increased number of acts designated as federal crimes, and the increasingly expansive application of federal jurisdiction to those crimes.
Why, then, was Santiago not charged with a terrorism crime?
During Santiago’s bond hearing, an FBI agent reportedly testified that Santiago claimed to be fighting for ISIS and that he’d been in touch via jihadi chat rooms with like-minded people who were also planning attacks. The objective of ISIS is to wage jihad until the entire world is under Islamic rule (the same objective as Islam).
Santiago’s conduct, based on his own confession to the FBI, falls squarely within the crime of terrorism as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 2332(b): he has killed, committed an assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and assaulted with a dangerous weapon various victims in Florida, according to the indictment. It is also reasonable to infer from Santiago’s confession, at least as testified to, that those activities were intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. This is the definition of “domestic terrorism” under the U.S. Code.
Hopefully the failure to charge Santiago with a terrorism charge does not stem from our government’s dismal failure to face the radical Islam problem head on. As I have detailed separately, this refusal places us all in more danger than we are already in. I look forward to the Justice Department, under the Trump Administration, calling terrorism what it is and fighting it everywhere it occurs. As that happens, we must all keep our eyes open and remain vigilant.