More than 24 hours after the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting, there is a theory going around the Internet that Esteban Santiago was a Muslim convert. Is that true?
Alleged Shooter Esteban Santiago
Senator Bill Nelson was the first to identify the alleged shooter as Esteban Santiago. He was carrying a military ID. He is reportedly 26, born in 1990 in New Jersey.
Santiago does not appear to have a Facebook account. Several people have found a Facebook account of a man from New Jersey who now lives in FL and has the name Esteban Santiago; that was not the same person as the alleged suspect.
There are multiple ex-felons in Florida with the name Esteban Santiago, but none of them are the same age as the alleged suspect. According to the The Daily Beast, however, there are arrest records for Santiago in Alaska:
According to charging documents provided by the Anchorage prosecutor's office to The Daily Beast, on January 10, 2016, Santiago verbally assaulted his then girlfriend, a 40-year old mother of one child from a previous marriage whom The Daily Beast is not naming, through a locked bathroom door, telling her to "Get the fuck out, bitch." After he forced his way in by breaking down the door, he smacked her in the head and strangled her. By the time police arrived, Santiago had fled the scene.
So is Esteban Santiago Muslim?
The rumor that Esteban Santiago was Muslim originally started with conservative websites claiming to have found Santiago's court database records, but it was significantly buttressed by a statement made by authorities. In a press conference, FBI special agent George Piro said, "we have not ruled out terrorism."
Authorities have also said that Santiago had turned himself in to authorities in Alaska, saying that voices were telling him to follow ISIS, according to the Daily Beast. But at the time, he also said that the CIA was making him watch ISIS videos, which suggests questionable mental health. This morning, it was revealed that Sanitago flew to Florida with the full intention of performing the shooting.
Several right-wing conspiracy sites say that they have traced Santiago via Lexis-Nexis databases. One of those sites, WeSearchr, posted what they claim are records of Santiago showing that his email addresses were firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. There is no further evidence for this, and it has not been reported by any reputable news stations. Sill, they claim that when you look up that email address online, you find multiple postings regarding Islam, Muslims, and even ISIS. They have posted what they say are screenshots of this, which have been retweeted by Internet users.
Nevertheless, there are several reasons to believe Santiago is not an Islamic terrorist. According to The Daily Beast, Santiago's brother said that he loved America. Santiago had also been watched for severe mental health issues.
Who is Aashiq Hammad?
Several conspiracy sites claim that Esteban Santiago referred to himself as Aashiq Hammad on Myspace. Those sites base that on the email addresses mentioned above. According to them, they searched the Myspace password database (which was hacked and released on the dark web) and found that one of those email addresses corresponded to this Myspace account:
There are clearly references to "Allah" on that page. However, there is also a giant "I love the USA" image, which brings the conspiracy sites' argument into question. It is also extremely important to note that the leaked users/passwords from the Myspace database were from the dark web, and there's no proof those haven't been manipulated.
It would be easy for someone to manipulate the database in order to make it seem that this was Myspace account was associated with the email addresses above, even if it was not. And of course, we don't have evidence that the email addresses are correct.
So is Esteban Santiago a Muslim? There is still no hard evidence either way. It is very dangerous to jump to conclusions based on certain conspiracy sites. It's possible that the conspiracy is correct, but at this point there's no hard evidence to suggest that it is.
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Photo courtesy CBS 13