THE Iraq war veteran accused of killing five travellers and wounding six others at a busy international airport in Florida has been charged and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Esteban Santiago, told investigators that he planned the attack, buying a one-way ticket to the Fort Lauderdale airport.

The authorities do not know why he chose his target and have not ruled out terrorism.

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The 26-year-old was charged with an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death – which carries a maximum punishment of execution – and weapons charges.

“The charges represent the gravity of the situation and reflect the commitment of law enforcement personnel to protect the community and prosecute those who target our residents and visitors,” US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said.

It is legal for airline passengers to travel with guns and ammunition as long as the firearms are put in a checked bag - not a carry-on - and are unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container. Guns must be declared to the airline at check-in.

Santiago arrived in Fort Lauderdale after taking off from Anchorage aboard a Delta flight on Thursday night, checking only one piece of luggage - his gun, said Jesse Davis, police chief at the Anchorage airport.

The bloodshed is likely to raise questions of whether aviation safety officials need to change the rules.

President Barack Obama was briefed by his Homeland Security adviser, the White House said.