A knife-wielding man who stabbed a Michigan police officer without warning Wednesday shouted “Allahu Akbar” before the attack, and the event is being investigated as an act of terrorism, authorities said.
David Gelios, FBI special agent in charge, said the assailant shouted the phrase, which means “God is great” in Arabic, before wounding the officer at Bishop International Airport in Flint. Gelios said that witnesses said the assailant also shouted something to the extent of “You killed people in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and we are all going to die.”
Lt. Jeff Neville of the airport’s Public Safety Department fought his attacker until the man was subdued and later underwent surgery. Neville was in satisfactory condition.
Gelios, in a televised news conference, identified the attacker as Amor Ftouhi, of Canada, 50. Ftouhi entered the United States legally on June 16 at Lake Champlain, N.Y. , he said.
Chief Chris Miller, head of the Public Safety Department, said Ftouhi gave no warning and did not engage with Neville before he attacked with a 8-inch-long blade. “He just started stabbing,” Miller said.
Miller said he was nearby when the attack began near the pre-screening area and, along with three others, subdued the man as Neville fought back. “Lt. Neville never stopped fighting,” Miller said. He continued fighting until Ftouhi was in handcuffs.
Gelios said that before the attack Ftouhi had wandered around public parts of the airport, just outside the TSA screening area. He was carrying bags, went inside a restroom, where he left the bags. He came out and went after Neville, he said.
Gelios said that, so far, it appears that Ftouhi acted alone and did not have specialize training. The investigation, however, is continuing, Gelios said.
The airport was shut down for several hours as investigators combed the crime scene.
Justin Marshall, 36, was flying from Atlanta on Delta Airlines 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.” Marshall, who lives about one hour north from Flint, was then told that his plane would still have to circle the airport for another 15 minutes. “A flight attendant said on the PA system 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, said that after his plane landed passengers on his flight waited on the runway for about 45 minutes until they deplaned and were escorted by officers and TSA agents.
He said around 20 police officers and TSA agents had lined the gate where passengers on his flight waited to get their checked baggage.
“Everyone was calm and orderly and understanding of the situation,” he said. “We were mostly concerned about 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. this last year — and recent terror attacks overseas — some local residents worry about possible backlash against Muslims.
Muna Jondy, a spokeswoman for the Flint Islamic Center, estimated that there are up to 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 during the holy month of Ramadan.
“Police chiefs here called Islamic Centers in Flint asking how we are doing,” Jondy said. “They asked if they’d like to provide us with extra security during Ramadan prayers this evening.”
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan chapter, 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, 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.
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