NYC truck attack suspect charged with terrorism offences

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. brought terrorism charges Wednesday against the Uzbek immigrant accused in the truck rampage that left eight people dead, saying he carried out the attack in response to online calls to action by the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Authorities said the driver of the rented Home Depot truck, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, watched ISIS videos on his cellphone and picked Halloween for the attack on a bike lane in Lower Manhattan because he knew more people would be out on the streets.

Afterward, as he lay wounded in the hospital, he asked to display the ISIS flag in his room and “stated that he felt good about what he had done,” prosecutors said in court papers.

He was charged with providing material support to a terrorist group and committing violence and destruction of motor vehicles.

Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said a search of cellphones found in a bag the suspect carried showed ISIS propaganda and dozens of videos depicting violence by ISIS.

He noted the investigation is ongoing and that more charges could follow.

Saipov left behind knives and a note, handwritten in Arabic, that included Islamic religious references and said “it will endure” — a phrase that commonly refers to ISIS, FBI agent Amber Tyree said in court papers.

Questioned in his hospital bed, Saipov said he had been inspired by ISIS videos and began plotting an attack about a year ago, deciding to use a truck about two months ago, Tyree said. Saipov even rented a truck on Oct. 22 to practise making turns, Tyree said.

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People stop at a memorial November near the site of a bike path attack in New York yesterday. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Bill Sweeney, the FBI assistant director of the New York field office, said law enforcement officials have been working around the clock to try to find more evidence.

He said the charges issued Wednesday were significant, but that people should be assured the investigation is far from over.

Earlier in the day, the FBI had been seeking information about a second person, but at a news conference Wednesday evening, Sweeney said law enforcement were no longer looking for him. 

Instead, he urged anyone with any information at all about the accused to get in touch with investigators.

In the past few years, ISIS has exhorted followers online to use vehicles, knives or other close-at-hand means of killing people in their home countries. England, France and Germany have all seen deadly vehicle attacks since mid-2016.

A November 2016 issue of the group’s online magazine detailed features that an attack truck or van should have, suggested renting such a vehicle and recommended targeting crowded streets and outdoor gatherings, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a militant-monitoring agency.

Carlos Batista, a neighbour of Saipov’s in Paterson, New Jersey, said he had seen the suspect and two friends using the same model of rented truck several times in the past three weeks.

It was not clear whether Saipov had been on authorities’ radar. Miller said Saipov had never been the subject of a criminal investigation but appears to have links to people who have been investigated.

Truck mowed down cyclists, pedestrians

In Tuesday’s attack, Saipov drove his speeding truck along a bike path, running down cyclists and pedestrians, then crashed into a school bus, authorities said. He was shot in the abdomen after he jumped out of the vehicle brandishing two air guns, one in each hand, and yelling “God is great!” in Arabic, they said.

In addition to those killed, 12 people were injured.

The aftermath took a political turn Wednesday when President Donald Trump slammed the visa lottery program that Saipov used to come to the U.S. in 2010. Trump called the program “a Chuck Schumer beauty,” a reference to the Senate’s top Democrat.

Bike Path Attack

A bicycle lies on a bike path at the crime scene. (Andres Kudacki/Associated Press)

The program dates to 1990, when Republican President George H.W. Bush signed it as part of a bipartisan immigration bill. Trump called on Congress to eliminate it, saying, “We have to get much tougher, much smarter and less politically correct.”

Schumer, who represents New York, said in a statement that he has always believed that immigration “is good for America,” and he accused the president of “politicizing and dividing” the country.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saipov appeared to have acted alone after becoming radicalized while in the U.S.

Assailants in a number of other recent extremist attacks around the world were found to have been “lone wolves” — inspired but not actually directed by the Islamic State. In some cases, they never even made contact with the group.

‘We will not be cowed’

On the morning after the bloodshed, city leaders vowed New York would not be intimidated, and they commended New Yorkers for going ahead with Halloween festivities on Tuesday night.

They also said Sunday’s New York City Marathon, with 50,000 participants and some two million spectators anticipated, will go on as scheduled.

“We will not be cowed. We will not be thrown off by anything,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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While the mayor said there have been no credible threats of any additional attacks, police said they were adding more sniper teams, bomb-sniffing dogs, helicopters, sand-truck barricades and other security measures along the marathon route, in the subways and at other sites.

The attack killed five people from Argentina, one from Belgium and two Americans, authorities said. Nine people remained hospitalized in serious or critical condition, with injuries that included lost limbs and wounds to the head, chest and neck.

A stretch of highway in lower Manhattan was closed for much of the day for the investigation. Authorities also converged on Saipov’s New Jersey apartment building and a van in a parking lot at a New Jersey Home Depot.

Runners and cyclists who use the popular bike path were diverted from the crime scene by officers at barricades.

“It’s the messed-up world we live in these days,” said Dave Hartie, 57, who works in finance and rides his bike along the path every morning. “Part of me is surprised it doesn’t happen more often.”

Dramatic sound and pictures of New York attack1:56

The slight, bearded Saipov is a legal, permanent U.S. resident. He lived in Ohio and Florida before moving to New Jersey around June, authorities said.

Birth records show he and his wife had two daughters in Ohio, and a neighbour in New Jersey said they recently had a baby boy.

Saipov was a commercial truck driver in Ohio. More recently, he was an Uber driver.

In Ohio, Saipov was an argumentative young man whose career was falling apart and who was “not happy with his life,” said Mirrakhmat Muminov, a fellow truck driver from heavily Muslim Uzbekistan.

Saipov lost his insurance on his truck after his rates shot up because of a few traffic tickets, and companies stopped hiring him, said Muminov, 38, of Stow, Ohio. Muminov said he heard from Saipov’s friends that Saipov’s truck engine blew a few months ago in New Jersey.

Muminov said Saipov would get into arguments with friends and family, tangling over even small things, such as going to a picnic with the Uzbek community.

“He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody,” Muminov said.

He said he and Saipov would sometimes argue about politics and world affairs, including Israel and Palestine. He said Saipov never spoke about ISIS, but he could tell his friend held radical views.

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