Amor Ftouhi

Photo: U.S. Department of Justice

Canadian Sentenced To Life In Prison For Flint Airport Stabbing

April 18, 2019 - 11:48 am

FLINT (WWJ/AP) - A Canadian man convicted of terrorism for nearly killing a Michigan police officer while yelling "God is great" in Arabic was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday, after boldly declaring that he only regretted not having a machine gun during the knife attack.

Amor Ftouhi's statements stunned U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman, who said he'd been "wrestling very hard" with a decision about whether to allow the Tunisia native a chance to someday be released from prison.

Leitman said the remarks "persuaded me beyond any shadow of a doubt" that a life term was appropriate for the 51-year-old Ftouhi, who moved to Montreal in 2007.

"He was crystal clear today: If he had the opportunity to kill more people, he would," the judge said.

Investigators say Ftouhi drove 1,000 miles from Montreal in 2017 and arrived at Flint Bishop International Airport. Witnesses said Ftouhi, who is Muslim, yelled "Allahu akbar" — the Arabic phrase for "God is great," — while attacking Lt. Jeff Neville, who survived being stabbed in the neck.

"Do I regret what I did? Never," Ftouhi told the judge inside a federal courtroom in Flint. "I regret I didn't get that machine gun. I regret I didn't kill that cop."

Federal investigators say Ftouhi wanted to stab Lt. Neville, take his gun and start shooting people.

Defense attorneys argued that Ftouhi wasn't attempting to create mass casualties. They say he was depressed about being in debt and being unable to properly support his wife and children after he had moved them from Tunisia to Montreal. He also expected that other officers would have killed him and that his widow could have collected on his life insurance policy.

Ftouhi is a native of Tunisia who moved to Canada in 2007. He legally drove into the U.S. at Champlain, New York on June 16, 2017 and arrived in Flint five days later. He tried but failed to buy a firearm at a gun show and instead bought a 12-inch knife with an 8-inch serrated blade.

Ftouhi went to the airport, left his baggage in the restroom and then slashed Lt. Neville's neck. As the attack went on, the FBI says Ftouhi continued to exclaim "Allah" and referenced killings in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — adding something to the effect of "you are all going to die." He was arrested at the scene.

After his arrest, Ftouhi told law enforcement that he was a "soldier of Allah" and subscribed to the ideology of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Ftouhi was convicted of all three crimes against him: Committing an act of violence at an airport, interfering with security and committing an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Ftouhi said he had a good education and many skills but felt discrimination in Canada because he wasn't a white Christian. He pledged allegiance to his Muslim faith and said western countries and Arabic countries should be cursed if they "don't rule according to Allah."

Neville survived the attack but has lost feeling on the right side of his face. He retired from the airport police department because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"He picked the wrong Americans to attack that day," Neville told Leitman, referring to fellow officers and witnesses who saved him and pounced on Ftouhi. "He should never walk the streets as a free man again."

Ftouhi's attorney, Joan Morgan, argued for a 25-year prison sentence in solitary confinement, saying it would effectively be a life term because of Ftouhi's age. The judge praised Morgan's work but repeatedly challenged her over the recommendation, especially after Ftouhi's courtroom remarks.

Morgan said Ftouhi's mental health had deteriorated at the time of the attack and has slipped even further during 22 months in custody awaiting trial and sentencing.

"People change. ... He is more than what his actions were," Morgan said.