NEW YORK – Authorities said Wednesday that the 29-year-old man accused of mowing down pedestrians and cyclists on a Manhattan bike path, killing eight people, had plotted for weeks before carrying out the attack in the name of the Islamic State.
Officials identified the suspected attacker as Sayfullo Saipov, a legal permanent resident of the United States who arrived in the country from Uzbekistan in 2010. They said Saipov was influenced by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and its violent tactics after he came to the United States.
Saipov left notes pledging his allegiance to the group, also known as ISIS, authorities said, though they have not identified any direct connections between Saipov and the organization.
Saipov’s notes were handwritten in Arabic and contained a combination of symbols and words saying essentially “that the Islamic State would endure forever,” John Miller, the deputy New York police commissioner for intelligence and counter-terrorism, said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
“He did this in the name of ISIS,” Miller said. “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.”
Saipov, a legal permanent resident of the United States, came to the country in March 2010 and moved from New Jersey to Ohio and Florida, according to authorities. Officials say Saipov climbed into a rental truck on Tuesday afternoon and careened down a bike path along Hudson River, slamming into numerous people before he was wounded by police and taken into custody.
While driving southbound “at a high rate of speed,” it appears Saipov specifically targeted cyclists and pedestrians, Miller said.
The eight people killed – which included five Argentines and a German – made the violent episode New York’s deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001. Twelve more people were injured, some critically, along an extended path of carnage in Lower Manhattan.
The route, which remained a crime scene on Wednesday, had been strewn with bodies, wreckage and scattered personal items such as purses, backpacks and shoes, resembling similar scenes after attacks in Berlin, London, Barcelona and other places scarred by violence when vehicles were used as weapons.
Investigators had spoken to Saipov, who remained hospitalized and in custody Wednesday, but officials declined to publicly reveal what he said. They also continued to scour his background and life for clues, which included carrying out search warrants and interviewing people who knew him.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, D, said authorities believe Saipov was a lone wolf who became “radicalized domestically” while living in the United States.
“The evidence shows . . . that after he came to the United States, is when he started to become informed about ISIS and radical Islamic tactics,” Cuomo said during an appearance on CNN’s “New Day” earlier Wednesday. “We have no evidence yet of associations or continuing plot or associated plots, and our only evidence to date is that this was an isolated incident that he himself performed.”
Video from the scene of the attack appeared to capture Saipov as he jumped out of the wrecked vehicle brandishing what appeared to be handguns. Some witnesses said he shouted “Allahu akbar,” meaning “God is great” in Arabic.
The Islamic State, which has called for supporters to use vehicles as weapons, did not immediately claim responsibility for the New York attack, though its supporters cheered what happened, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity. The militant group frequently asserts responsibility for attacks, doing so in some cases where there is little clear indication of its involvement.
A key difference between this attack and others that have occurred: Authorities took Saipov alive, meaning investigators could gain firsthand information from him rather than relying solely on the trail he left behind.
After identifying Saipov as an immigrant from Uzbekistan, officials were trying to confirm further details on him and his background. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, promised to use all resources to help in the probe.
The attack could intensify the political debate over immigration and security. President Donald Trump tweeted several times about the vehicle attack on Tuesday and Wednesday, writing at one point about keeping the Islamic State out of the United States. In another tweet, Trump said he had urged the Department of Homeland Security to “step up” its vetting program for foreign nationals, though he did not elaborate on what that meant.
Trump on Wednesday also shifted his focus to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeting that Saipov had entered the country through a visa program he blamed on the senator.
Trump has argued for much tougher screening of immigrants to prevent terrorism, and opponents of those policies have sought to block his efforts in the courts. Uzbekistan was not among the countries named in any version of the president’s travel ban, which largely targeted a number of majority-Muslim countries.
Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, said Wednesday that neither man had received a phone call from Trump. Both elected officials said they were not bothered because two senior Trump administration officials had called them, but both men also expressed umbrage at what they described as attempts to politicize the attack.
“The president’s tweets I think were not helpful,” Cuomo said at the briefing Wednesday. “I don’t think they were factual. I think they tended to point fingers and politicize the situation.”
In the aftermath of the attack, throngs of New Yorkers went out to celebrate Halloween, with many attending the city’s annual parade, which officials extolled as a show of the city’s resilience. Police also said New Yorkers would see a beefed up law enforcement presence in the coming days.
Cuomo, who described the truck attack as a “failed” effort to scare and terrorize people, reiterated that he felt like responses such as Trump’s were not the right way to react.
“You play into the hands of the terrorists to the extent you disrupt and divide and frighten people in this society,” he said.
As the sun rose over New York on Wednesday, the bike path remained blocked off by police tape between Houston and Chambers streets. Dozens of police officers guarded the perimeter while crime scene investigators wearing white suits slowly searched the length of the path. Police closed streets Wednesday around the area near the West Side Highway.
Saipov, who had been living in New Jersey, rented the Home Depot truck there before driving into Manhattan, officials said.
His rampage down the path continued until he eventually collided with a school bus, injuring more people, at which point he emerged from the truck, according to the police narrative. A stream of 911 calls soon came in reporting the injuries, the bus accident and a man with a gun in the street.
An officer from the 1st Precinct, who was at a nearby high school for an unrelated call, approached Saipov and shot him in the abdomen. The weapons he was brandishing turned out to be a pellet gun and a paintball gun, police said.
Dilnoza Abdusamatova said that when Saipov moved to the United States, he stayed with her family in Cincinnati for his first two weeks in the country because their fathers were friends.
Abdusamatova, 24, said Saipov then moved to Florida to start a trucking company. Her family members think he got married about a year after arriving in the United States and may now have two children. Around that time, she said, he cut off contact with them. “He stopped talking to us when he got married,” Abdusamatova said.
Uber said Saipov had been a driver from the service, though he was banned from the app in the wake of the attack. He passed the Uber background check, according to the company. Uber is reviewing Saipov’s history as a driver, and so far it has not identified any worrisome safety reports, company officials said.
At the bike path in New york, two men holding coffee cups approached the line police tape early Wednesday.
“I don’t see what happened,” one said.
“You don’t know what happened? Yesterday. Someone drive a truck into people,” the other said.
“Did people die?”
“Yeah,” said the man. “People died.”