A 29-year-old man drove a rental truck into a pedestrian and bike path along the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan in New York City on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring 11 in the deadliest terror attack in the city since 9/11.
Officials have identified the suspect as Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek national who moved to the US from Uzbekistan legally in 2010. On Wednesday evening, federal prosecutors in New York filed terrorism charges against him.
Investigators say Saipov carried out the attack, which he’d had planned for weeks, “in the name of ISIS,” but that there is currently no evidence that he had any direct ties to or support from the terror group.
“He appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions that ISIS has put out in its social media channels before with instructions to their followers on how to carry out such an attack,” John Miller, the New York deputy police commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that investigators believe Saipov was a lone wolf who was “radicalized domestically” after coming to the United States.
According to officials, Saipov left a note behind in his truck. The message, written in Arabic, read, “The Islamic State [will] endure forever.”
How the attack happened
At around 3:05 pm Tuesday, Saipov drove a rented Home Depot pickup truck southbound down a crowded bike path along the West Side Highway at high speed. After plowing into several bikers and pedestrians for around 20 blocks, the truck smashed into a school bus near Stuyvesant High School, near Chambers Street, where it finally stopped.
Saipov then got out of the truck brandishing a paintball and pellet gun and shouted, “Allahu Akbar” (Arabic for “God is greater”), before a police officer shot him in the abdomen and took him into custody. Police transported him to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. They have interviewed him and are waiting for an update on his health conditions.
Frank DeMarco, a longtime resident of the neighborhood who could see the aftermath of the attack from his apartment balcony, described being shocked but not surprised by the incident.
“We lived here during 9/11. Terrorism, in a funny kind of way, is not new to this neighborhood — it’s a target,” DeMarco told me.
The victims were largely tourists from other countries. Among the dead were five men from Argentina — they were friends on a trip to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their graduation from high school. The Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified them as Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij, and Hernán Ferruchi.
A Belgian woman, who was in the city on a trip with her sister and mother, was also killed. The other two people who died have not yet been identified. At least 11 were wounded in the attack; their names have also not been released.
What we know about the suspect so far
Saipov came to the US under the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. It’s a program dating back to 1990 intended to diversify the kinds of immigrants who enter the US and give people with no familial or economic connections to the country a shot at living here. Only people hailing from countries with low immigration rates to the US are eligible for it — most come from Africa, Asia and former Soviet bloc countries.
When Saipov arrived in the US seven years ago, he first lived in temporary housing with other Uzbek immigrants near Cincinnati, Ohio. He didn’t speak much English, but he was known as a restless workaholic who moved around the country starting new driving and trucking businesses.
“He always used to work. He wouldn’t go to parties or anything. He only used to come home and rest and leave and go back to work,’’ Dilnoza Abdusamatova, a family friend, told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
As the LA Times reports, Saipov registered his first company, Sayf Motors, in Symmes Township, Ohio, the year after he arrived in the US. Two years later, he registered another trucking company at another Ohio address near Cleveland. And then he started yet another trucking company when he moved to Tampa, Florida. Most recently he settled in Paterson, New Jersey, where he drove for Uber.
Along the way, he got married and had three children.
A friend of Saipov’s from Florida, who described him as a “little brother,” told the New York Post that Saipov was “very friendly” and was shocked to learn that he was suspected of committing the attack.
But others who knew Saipov say he had begun to display more extremist views.
A longtime acquaintance of Saipov’s told Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe that they’d had “an argument on a religious issue” several months ago, during which Saipov revealed “very radical views.”
“After that argument, he stopped contacting us,” the acquaintance said. “We warned him over his radical views.”
An imam from a mosque Saipov attended in Tampa told the New York Times that he saw signs of Saipov’s extremism and poor temper and attempted to intervene.
“I used to tell him, ‘Hey, you are too much emotional,’” Abdula, who gave only his first name to the Times, said. “‘Read books more. Learn your religion first.’ He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community.”
“I never thought that he would go to this extreme,” he said.
The New York Times reports that investigators have found that Saipov has been “on the radar of federal authorities” in the past. But he had been flagged due to an unrelated investigation, and it’s not clear what kind of relationship he had with the subjects of those investigations — or if he himself had ever been investigated. Miller’s comments on Tuesday seem to suggest that Saipov wasn’t the central target of a previous investigation.
Trump has responded with calls for tougher vetting and stricter immigration policies
President Trump tweeted on Tuesday night that he has ordered the Department of Homeland of Security to “step up our already Extreme Vetting Program” and that the occasion required letting go of concerns of “being politically correct.”
On Wednesday, he blamed the terror attack on immigration policies promoted by Democrats that he thought were too generous. “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based,” he tweeted.
Trump is also considering sending the attacker, who is a legal permanent resident of the US, to Guantanamo Bay, according to CBS reporter Steven Portnoy.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that he agreed with criticisms of the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. He also said that Saipov should be considered “an enemy combatant” without Miranda rights since his attack and others like it are “acts of war” against the US.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Fox News that giving someone like Saipov a lawyer or reading them their Miranda rights is “crazy.”
At a press conference Wednesday, Cuomo said, “I am bothered by any attempt by anyone to politicize this situation — that plays right into the hands of the terrorists.”