Florida airport shooting suspect indicted on 22 criminal counts

TAMPA, Fla., Jan 26 (Reuters) - A federal grand jury has indicted on 22 criminal counts an Iraq war veteran suspected of killing five people in a mass shooting at a Florida airport this month, U.S. prosecutors said on Thursday.

Esteban Santiago, 26, is accused of opening fire in the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport on Jan. 6. The charges against him include multiple counts of violence at an airport resulting in death and injury, as well as firearms crimes.

If convicted, he could be punished by life imprisonment or death. The U.S. Attorney General has not decided whether to seek a death sentence, the prosecutors office said.

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Shooting at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: Police direct traffic outside of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Esteban Santiago, is shown in this booking photo provided by the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, January 7, 2017.

(Courtesy Broward County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS)

Police question people who are evacuating from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport near the tarmac after airport shooting in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

Esteban Santiago, the suspect in the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, is transported to the Broward County Main Jail by authorities on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People wait on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Law enforcement personnel search the grounds after a shoot opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
A man is helped after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. Courtesy Mike Starobinsky/Maxwillsolutions/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Airport security personnel stand in front of one of the entrances to the baggage area of Terminal 2, where yesterday a shooter killed five people and wounded six others before he was taken into custody, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport on January 7, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The alleged gunman, Esteban Santiago, 26, is reported to have flown from Alaska to Florida with a gun in a checked bag, and after landing used the gun to shoot people.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Shooting victims are unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

Broward County Sheriff officers exit from the escalator that takes people from the baggage area of Terminal 2 where yesterday a shooter killed five people and wounded six others before he was taken into custody, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport on January 7, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The alleged gunman, Esteban Santiago, 26, is reported to have flown from Alaska to Florida with a gun in a checked bag, and after landing used the gun to shoot people.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Travelers and airport workers are evacuated out of the terminal after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity
Travelers are evacuated out of the terminal and onto the tarmac after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
Law enforcement walk outside a terminal after a shooter opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
Law enforcement personnel take cover below a stairwell in a parking garage opposite a terminal after a shooter opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: Police assist people seeking cover outside of Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People seek cover on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People take cover outsideTerminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and 8 wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People take cover behind cars outside of Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and 8 wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People wait on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Esteban Santiago, the suspect in the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, is transported to the Broward County Main Jail by authorities on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
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The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Broward County, Florida, where the attack occurred, prosecutors in the U.S. Southern District of Florida said in a news release.

Authorities said Santiago aimed at victims' heads and bodies until he ran out of ammunition and was taken into custody. Five people were killed in the attack and six others wounded.

The indictment accuses Santiago of "substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person."

The attack was the latest in a series of deadly U.S. mass shootings, some inspired by Islamist militants, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed.

Santiago had a history of erratic behavior. Authorities have said they were investigating whether mental illness played a role in the shooting.

Court records show he is being represented by a public defender. A representative answering calls for the office said it had no immediate comment.

An arraignment hearing in Santiago's case is scheduled in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Monday.

A private first class in the National Guard who served in Iraq from 2010 to 2011, Santiago traveled from Alaska to Florida on a one-way airline ticket with a handgun and ammunition in his checked luggage, according to authorities.

Upon arrival, he claimed his gun case and loaded the weapon in a men's bathroom, investigators said in a criminal complaint. He opened fire on the first people he saw after leaving the restroom, it said.

Santiago told investigators he was inspired by Islamic State and had previously chatted online with Islamist extremists, according to FBI testimony presented in court. (Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and James Dalgleish)

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