FLINT, Mich. (AP) — The Flint, Michigan, airport officer stabbed in the neck during what authorities are investigating as a terrorist act is recovering well from a 12-inch "slash" that caused significant bleeding but spared major arteries and a nerve by "millimeters," one of his doctors said Friday.
Hurley Medical Center doctors said during a news conference that Bishop International Airport Police Lt. Jeff Neville could be released from the hospital within a couple days. Dr. Donald Scholten, a trauma surgeon who operated on Neville, said he is making good progress after being stabbed from "by his Adam's apple" up "to the angle of his jaw." He says Neville has been a great patient who was very calm and cooperative from the start. Neville underwent a two-hour surgery only about 20 minutes after being attacked, said Scholten.
"This was a matter of millimeters," Scholten said. "The slash was probably very, very close to severing his major arteries and nerve — perhaps even his windpipe and digestive systems ... This was not a shaving nick, if you will. This was significant force."
Neville was stabbed Wednesday around 9:45 a.m. at the airport in Flint, about 50 miles northwest of Detroit. Amor Ftouhi, 49, a Canadian from Tunisia, is charged in the attack. Detroit FBI head David Gelios said Ftouhi unsuccessfully tried to buy a gun once he arrived in the U.S. but instead managed to buy a large knife.
Authorities say Ftouhi stabbed airport police Lt. Jeff Neville with a 12-inch knife after yelling "Allah akbar," the Arabic phrase for "God is great." According to the FBI, Ftouhi also said something similar to, "you have killed people in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are all going to die."
Ftouhi was immediately taken into custody and was charged in a criminal complaint with committing violence at an airport, up to a 20-year penalty. Acting U.S. Attorney Dan Lemisch said more charges are likely coming in the days ahead. Ftouhi is in custody and has a bond hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
Neville "fought him to the end," managing to stop the stabbing and bring Ftouhi to the ground as other officers arrived to help, according to Chris Miller, the airport police chief. Scholten also credits bystanders and first responders, saying their efforts to control Neville's bleeding were "absolutely life-saving."
Investigators are working to learn more about Ftouhi, whom they describe as a lone-wolf attacker who made his way to the seemingly random destination of Flint, a struggling city once known for its sprawling General Motors factories but now better known for lead-tainted water.
He was a part-time caretaker at the Montreal apartment building where he lived and had once studied to sell insurance, a landlord and an insurance company spokesman said. The suspect indicated to court officials that he has lived in Canada for 10 years and has three children. A pre-trial services officer told a judge that he had worked on and off as a truck driver. He indicated "no mental or physical health problems and no drug or alcohol use," the officer, Linsey Carson, said.
Police in Canada were searching a Montreal apartment. Montreal police spokesman Benoit Boiselle said officers were assisting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the search on behalf of an FBI request. Three people staying at the residence had been taken in for questioning, Boiselle said.
He legally entered the U.S. at Champlain, New York, on June 16 and was in Michigan by at least June 18, said Gelios, who would not say whether Ftouhi entered the U.S. under a so-called trusted traveler program. Gelios did say Ftouhi was not under any surveillance in the U.S. or Canada prior to this attack.
He spent some time in public, unsecured areas of the airport before going to a restroom where he dropped two bags before attacking the officer with a 12-inch knife that had an 8-inch serrated blade, Gelios said.
Ftouhi asked an officer who subdued him why he did not kill him, according to the criminal complaint. Police described him as "cooperative" and said he was talking to investigators.