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Flint airport stabber faces sentencing this week

U.S. Department of Justice

When Amor Ftouhiarrives in court this week the only question is how many years in prison he'll face for stabbing a Flint airport police officer in 2017.

Last week, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys submitted their recommendations to U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Leitman. The two sides agree that Amor Ftouhi committed the crime. But they ask the judge to consider two different sentences.

On June 21st, 2017, Ftouhi walked up to Lt. Jeff Neville in the Flint Bishop International airport terminal.  He slashed Neville with a knife while shouting “Allahu Akbar” which translates as “God is great.” The wound ran from behind Neville’s right ear down across his neck. Neville survived. Ftouhi was wrestled to the ground and taken into custody.

Last November, a jury convicted Ftouhi on all counts, including committing an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

In the nearly two years since the attack, the life of the 51 year old man from Montreal has come into focus.

Ftouhi and his family immigrated to Canada from his native in Tunisia.

In their sentencing recommendation, Ftouhi’s defense attorneys argue their client has struggled throughout his life. The filing describes Amor Ftouhi as a “desperate, traumatized, depressed person, not a psychologically normal ideological extremist.”

As each layer of Mr. Ftouhi’s life is peeled back, his story emerges as one that is common among men trying desperately to provide a good life for their family. He came from a dysfunctional family, with an alcoholic father, and worked hard to achieve a different life. He prioritized his wife and children above all else, and worked hard as the sole provider in the family. The dream he and his wife shared, of immigrating to Canada for a better life, had not materialized. In the years leading up to the offense, Mr. Ftouhi grew deeper and deeper in debt, and he could see no way out of it. He felt that he had nothing left to give to his family. He felt hopeless, and believed he had discovered a solution to his problems through martyrdom.

In their filing, defense attorneys quote Ftouhi,“If I had a stable job and family life, I wouldn’t be here.”

Ftouhi’s defenders are asking the judge to sentence him to 25 years in prison, suggesting he should spend that time in solitary confinement.

He would not be released from prison until he was in his seventies. He would not only be incapacitated physically, but he would also be incapacitated mentally, by continuing to be isolated from the public, his family, and likely even other inmates for most of his time in custody.

By contrast, federal prosecutors want the judge to impose the maximum sentence of life in prison.

In their filing last Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s office says Ftouhi “came to punish America for its support of Israel and for its foreign policy in the Middle East.”

In his post-arrest interview, Ftouhi claimed that he was a “soldier of Allah,” that he considered the United States an enemy and his mission was to kill as many American law enforcement as possible before he, himself, was killed. Ftouhi said that he has and always will have a strong hatred for the U.S. government. He explained that he was angry about U.S. support for Israel and U.S. actions in conflict areas in the Middle East. In his post arrest letter, Ftouhi told his children that they should be proud of him because he was “fighting the infidel criminals.”

Prosecutors argue that a life sentence for Ftouhi is needed for “general deterrence” and “a crucial need to protect the public.” They also note that Ftouhi has not “denounced his attack.”

The defense has characterized Ftouhi’s attack as a one-time event; a product of his depression and hopelessness. But that misses the mark. Ftouhi may have been unsatisfied with his life but he tried to kill Jeff Neville and intended to kill countless more because he dreamed of being a mujahedeen—a warrior. He yearned to be revered and killing was the way to achieve that.

Judge Leitman is scheduled to sentence Amor Ftouhi Thursday morning in Flint. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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