In the wake of the deadly shooting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on 6 January 2017, some web sites began claiming that the shooting suspect, who has been identified by authorities as Esteban Santiago Ruiz, 26, used Arabic-sounding names, and that he was a radicalized terrorist who had converted to an extreme form of Islam. Some said that he used the name Emir Mohamed Sikkim, while others claimed he had assumed the name Aashiq Hammad.
An unnamed law enforcement official told ABC News on 9 January 2017 that Santiago may in fact have used the name Aashiq Hammad:
Since the attacks, investigators recovered Santiago’s computer from a pawn shop, and the FBI is examining it to determine whether the alleged shooter created a jihadist identity for himself using the name Aashiq Hammad, according to officials familiar with the case.
On 9 January 2017, Santiago had his initial court appearance. He was charged with three federal counts related to the shooting spree in which he allegedly killed five people. Santiago potentially faces the death penalty.
According to the criminal complaint provided by federal authorities, Santiago was at Terminal 2 of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (which at the time was packed with arriving passengers retrieving their luggage), pulling out a handgun, aiming it at victims’ heads, and firing “in a methodical manner.” Five people were killed; six others were injured. Santiago reportedly surrendered to Broward County sheriff’s deputies, having fired all his ammunition.
It seems that the claim that Santiago went by “Emir Mohamed Sikkim” was a rumor spread via social media, according to the web site “Fire Andrea Mitchell!” (Andrea Mitchell is the chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News):
Lots of reports going around social media that Emir Mohamed Sikkim was Esteban Santiago Muslim convert name. Since the media will never investigate this (and they even white-wash photos of the Islamic terrorist making the ISIS finger gesture in a Muslim Keffiyeh, we need to know if this is true.
Reports claim that Emir Mohamed Sikkim or Esteban Santiago has been posting on Jihadi forums for years, that also needs to be verified.
The conservative site GotNews.com, which is owned by controversial media figure Chuck C. Johnson, claimed that Santiago may have used the name Aashiq Hammad, and was a fan of the Japanese animation art form known as anime. The GotNews team used the Nexis public records database search results of proof for their claim:
A search of public records database Nexis reveals that Puerto Rican Esteban Santiago has a brother named Bryan Santiago and two e-mails registered to his name…
The second e-mail, “Naota33@hotmail.com”, is how GotNews exclusively visually identified Santiago before every mainstream media outlet and discovered he was posting on an explosives/weapons forum about mass-downloading Islamic terrorist propaganda videos in 2007 yesterday.
Today, we discovered the first e-mail, “Naota017@gmail.com”, in the MySpace database that was leaked earlier this year. This is the raw data we found:
The middle entry “aashiqhammad” can be added to the MySpace URL to discover the profile that was registered to the e-mail address “Naota017@gmail.com”.
As noted in the text quoted above, these e-mails were used to track down a MySpace account belonging to a person using the name “asshiq.” The account user lists the city of Peñuelas, Puerto Rico as their home and has Muslim religious song listed under “songs.” (We have e-mailed both the accounts to see if they are in use, and have not received a response).
Their claim hinged on whether e-mail addresses and other personal information ascribed to Santiago by the Nexis search were in fact correct. Information gleaned from such searches can contain errors, because such databases pull information from multiple available records. They have in the past been known to conflate information belonging to individuals with similar names.
The article continues with a claim that Santiago was recording “Islamic religious music” online:
That song was recorded in 2007, 3 years before Esteban Santiago went to Iraq as a U.S. soldier in 2010, destroying the lying mainstream media’s narrative that he was a “mentally disturbed veteran”, although even they admit Santiago went into an FBI office in 2015 and told agents he was being forced to watch ISIS videos by voices in his head (or something).
2007 was also the year that “Naota33” was posting on an explosives/weapons forum about mass-downloading Islamic propaganda videos, as GotNews exclusively revealed yesterday.
Santiago was definitely mentally disturbed, but if he was calling himself “Aashiq Hammad”, recording Islamic religious music online, and downloading Islamic terrorist propaganda all in 2007, 3 years before his first deployment to Iraq, what do you really think is the root cause here?
Investigators are looking at terrorism as one possible motive, but have not decisively established it as such. George Piro, FBI special agent in charge out of Miami, told reporters during a 7 January 2017 press conference:
We continue to look at all angles and motives and at this point we are continuing to look at the terrorism angle.
Santiago, who lived in Anchorage, Alaska, was apparently experiencing signs of psychological distress in the months leading up to the attack:
“He said that the C.I.A. controlled him through secret messages over the internet and told him the things he had to do,” [his brother Bryan Santiago] recalled.
It was on Nov. 7 that Esteban Santiago went to the F.B.I. office in Anchorage “to report that his mind was being controlled by U.S. intelligence agencies,” Marlin L. Ritzman, the agent in charge of the office, said on Saturday. “During the interview, Mr. Santiago appeared agitated, incoherent and made disjointed statements.”
Elaborating, a senior law enforcement official said Mr. Santiago had claimed that the C.I.A. put terrorist propaganda on his computer.
Santiago, who joined the Puerto Rico National Guard in 2007 and was deployed to Iraq in 2010, also had a track record of domestic violence disturbances at his home. Family members told the New York Times that he became “a different person” after returning from the Persian Gulf.
Fire Andrea Mitchell! “IS EMIR MOHAMED SIKKIM ESTEBAN SANTIAGO MUSLIM NAME?”
7 January 2017.
GotNews. “BREAKING: Records Suggest #FortLauderdale Shooter #EstebanSantiago Is Puerto Rican Islamic Terrorist & Anime Fan.”
6 January 2017.
GotNews. “BREAKING: #FortLauderdale Terrorist #EstebanSantiago Joined MySpace As “Aashiq Hammad”, Recorded Islamic Music.”
7 January 2017.
Ross, Brian, et al. “Authorities: Fort Lauderdale Suspect First Planned New Year’s Eve Trip to New York.”
ABC News. 9 January 2017.
Kravets, Davis. “What’s in a middle name? Read about David Smith’s background check snafu.”
Ars Technica. 17 September 2016.
Alvarez, Lizette, et al. “In Year Before Florida Shooting, Suspect’s Problems Multiplied.”
The New York Times. 7 January 2017.