FLINT, Mich. — A Montreal man convicted of terrorism for nearly killing an airport police officer in Michigan was sentenced Thursday to life in prison.
U.S. prosecutors said Amor Ftouhi drove 1,600 kilometres from Montreal to the airport in Flint, Mich., where he yelled "God is great" in Arabic and repeatedly stabbed Lt. Jeff Neville on June 21, 2017.
Investigators said Ftouhi wanted to kill Neville, take his gun and start shooting people in the airport. He legally drove into the United States at Champlain, N.Y., and arrived in Flint five days later. He tried but failed to buy a gun at a gun show and instead bought a large knife.
Prosecutors have said he told investigators his "mission was to kill and be killed."
His defence lawyer, Joan Morgan, said Ftouhi wasn't attempting to create mass casualties and wanted to be killed so his family could collect life insurance and he could become a martyr.
Before sentencing Thursday, Ftouhi, 51, told the judge he has no regrets and only wished he could have acquired a machine-gun that day to kill Neville and others.
"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."
The statements stunned U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman, who said he'd been "wrestling very hard" with a decision about whether to allow Ftouhi 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. "He was crystal clear today: If he had the opportunity to kill more people, he would," the judge said.
Ftouhi, who moved to Montreal in 2007 from Tunisia, was convicted in November on terrorism charges and two other crimes.
Ftouhi had 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 counties and Arabic countries should be cursed if they "don't rule according to Allah."
The case was a slam dunk for federal prosecutors, who sought a life sentence. Several witnesses saw Ftouhi attack Neville and wrestled him to the ground.
"The evidence at trial demonstrated that Ftouhi had a 'mission' to kill as many American law enforcement as possible in an act of violent jihad," U.S. attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement. "The sentence today reflects his extreme dangerousness and the need to prevent him from further acts of violence in the future."
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.
Later outside the courthouse, Neville said he wasn't surprised by the lack of contrition and was pleased with the life sentence.
"I would have been disappointed, frankly, if he didn't get life, because he's a really dangerous man and I think he got out of prison at 70 years old, he'd still be a dangerous man. If they let him go in Canada, he'd still be a dangerous man," Neville said. "He's not someone that needs to be out ever again."
According to the prosecution's sentencing memorandum, Ftouhi shared a two-bedroom apartment in Montreal with his wife and three children and was employed up until two weeks before the attack.
His wife described his mental health at the time as "happy, positive and hopeful," but Ftouhi said he was depressed about his finances and wanted to kill and become a martyr.
The prosecution said he began planning in March 2017, researching gun shows and downloading tactical training videos and government surveillance techniques. He chose Michigan because he thought it would easiest jurisdiction in which to procure a gun.
Ftouhi told authorities after the attack he came to the U.S. to punish that country for its support of Israel and its foreign policy in the Middle East.
The defence sentencing filing described Ftouhi as having faced discrimination in finding employment. In heavy debt, he saw the attack as a way to become a martyr while benefiting his wife and children through a life insurance policy.
However, authorities in Canada and the U.S., as well as statements from Ftouhi's family, indicated he was educated, intelligent and had a good life in Canada. But he became so consumed by hate, he left it behind to pursue a "mission of murder," the prosecution said.
— with files from The Canadian Press
The Associated Press