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.
Ftouhi drove 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) from Montreal to the airport in Flint, Michigan, where he repeatedly stabbed Lt. Jeff Neville in the neck in June 2017.
Investigators said Ftouhi wanted to take Neville’s gun and start shooting people at Bishop Airport. Ftouhi legally entered the U.S. at Champlain, New York, 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.
“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.”
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 counties and Arabic countries should be cursed if they “don’t rule according to Allah.”
He was convicted in November of terrorism and two other crimes.
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.