Photo courtesy of Taylor Elenburg shows passengers gathering on the tarmac of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport in Florida after a gunman opened fire on January 06, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Elenburg shows passengers gathering on the tarmac of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport in Florida after a gunman opened fire on January 06, 2017.

An Iraq war veteran took a gun out of his checked luggage and opened fire in a crowded baggage claim area at Florida's Fort Lauderdale airport on Friday, killing five people and wounding eight others.

Esteban Santiago, 26, who was taken into custody immediately following the shooting and questioned at length, was expected to face federal charges in the shooting rampage, said George Piro, special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Miami.

Piro said investigators had not ruled out terrorism as a possible motive in the rampage and were reviewing the suspect's recent travel.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said the shooter was unharmed as law enforcement officers never fired a shot.

Santiago had arrived in Ft. Lauderdale shortly before 1 pm local time on a connecting flight from Alaska, authorities said, when he retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun from his checked luggage and began firing indiscriminately.

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca said on Twitter that the gunman went into a restroom to load his weapon and came out firing. Witnesses told MSNBC television he only stopped after running out of ammunition, at which point he surrendered to police.

Flying with firearms is routine and legal in the US as long as the guns are kept in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage only, under TSA rules. Ammunition is also prohibited in carry-on bags, but is allowed in checked baggage.

A person by the name Esteban Santiago was discharged honorably from the Army National Guard last year, ABC News reported, citing the Army criminal investigation division.

The shooter said nothing as he fired, witnesses told MSNBC. He appeared to use a 9 mm handgun, which he tossed aside upon running out of ammunition, surrendering to police, MSNBC reported.

A White House spokesperson said President Barack Obama had spoken to Scott and Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief and had extended his condolences to the loved ones of the victims.

In addition to the dead and wounded, some three dozen were taken to local hospitals with bruises or broken bones suffered in the ensuing chaos following the shooting.

Piro said that Santiago had turned up at an FBI office in Anchorage in November of last year behaving erratically and was turned over to local police, who took him to a medical facility for a mental evaluation.

Travellers are evacuated out of the terminal and onto the tarmac after the airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, US, January 6, 2017. (Reuters)
Travellers are evacuated out of the terminal and onto the tarmac after the airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, US, January 6, 2017. (Reuters)

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is the second largest in South Florida, serving as an intercontinental gateway.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies