UPDATED 12:20 p.m., Nov. 1, 2017:
The man accused of mowing down pedestrians and cyclists with a Home Depot pickup truck in lower Manhattan Tuesday followed Islamic State instructions “to a T” and had planned his attack “for weeks,” New York City officials said Wednesday morning.
Sayfullo Habibulaevic Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek national and Uber driver, killed eight people and left 11 injured in what’s been described as the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since 9/11.
Police officials said investigators at the scene discovered knives, multiple fake firearms, and a handwritten note — the gist of which was that “the Islamic State would endure forever.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that authorities believe the suspect was “radicalized domestically.”
Officials also confirmed that Saipov had never been the subject of an FBI or an NYPD investigation himself, but that he “will have some connectivity to individuals who were the subject of investigations.”
President Donald Trump hasn’t called Gov. Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio, but both officials offered a stern rebuke to anyone attempting to focus on that particular detail. “I am not bothered by the fact that the president didn’t call; I am bothered by an attempt to try and politicize this situation,” he said, referring to Trump’s tweets pointing to immigration issues. “That plays right into the hands of the terrorists. They’re trying to disrupt, create mayhem, they’re trying to divide… To politicize this event is wholly counterproductive.”
But Cuomo didn’t hold back when reporters asked what he thought about the president’s tweets about the attack, saying that some of what Trump said had “no relevance to the facts of this situation.” Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller added “This is not about Islam; this is not about what mosque he attends,” and reminded New Yorkers that Muslims are often targeted in hate crimes or bias incidents in the wake of such attacks. Miller vowed that the NYPD would investigate and prosecute such incidents vigorously.
Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, the 29-year-old who killed eight people and injured 13 in a terror attack in New York Tuesday, was described by former neighbors and friends as a mild-mannered truck driver, who cooked for an elderly neighbor and treated her like “his mother.”
But experts claim Saipov, who moved from Uzbekistan seven years ago, wanted to die in the attack and “go to heaven and be a martyr.”
The suspect did not achieve that goal. After leaving his vehicle with a pair of fake guns, he was shot in the abdomen by police officers and rushed to hospital to undergo surgery. He is expected to live.
“Ideologically, he believed it was the right thing to do. He believed in the cause and finally, after being killed, he was going to go to heaven and be a martyr,” Haras Rafiq, chief executive of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, told VICE News.
Police found handwritten notes in Arabic near the truck indicating an allegiance to Islamic State. The group has not yet claimed responsibility, but it’s only a matter of time before they do, Rafiq said.
“This guy may well have just been ideologically linked and ISIS wasn’t even aware of it,” he continued.
Here’s what we know about Saipov so far:
Diversity Visa Program
Saipov moved to the U.S. from Uzbekistan in 2010 and obtained a green card for permanent legal residence. Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday the suspect entered the U.S. via a State Department lottery for people from countries with few immigrants in America.
The program demands applicants boast a clean criminal record and the equivalent of a high school diploma.
According to a marriage license registered in Summit County, Ohio, Saipov married 19-year-old Nozima Odilova in 2013. Both gave Tashkent, Uzbekistan, as their birthplace.
Saipov lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and young children in Paterson, a town of 145,000 people in New Jersey, local media reported.
While in Paterson, Saipov worked as a driver for Uber. The company confirmed the suspect passed their background check and their records showed no complaints from passengers. In a statement, the company said it was “horrified by this senseless act of violence.”
Saipov moved to New Jersey this summer, having previously lived in Tampa, Florida, where he worked as a commercial truck driver.
On Tuesday Saipov rented the truck from a Home Depot in Passaic, near Paterson, leaving his white Toyota minivan parked near the store.
Saipov, who held a commercial truck driver license, also lived in Ohio where he registered two companies — Sayf Motors Inc. in 2011 and Bright Auto LLC in 2013 — listed in a Department of Transport database as a “motor carrier.”
“Treated me like I was his mother”
Saipov’s Florida Neighbors describe a warm, friendly man who went out of his way to help others.
One described a soft-spoken man who used to bring her home-cooked meals, saying he wanted to share his country’s food.
“He always brings food. I offer him money but he said he doesn’t want it,” Kyong Eagan told the Daily Beast. “I just can’t believe it at all. He was just so genuine. I’m just so shocked. He always treated me like I was his mother. He was kind of a nice neighbor. A real nice neighbor to have.”
Others remember Saipov living in a modest apartment complex with a woman and “two or three children,” as well as an older woman they believed was the suspect’s mother or mother-in-law.
While Saipov was warm and welcoming, the neighbors said female members of the family were often cold to the point of rudeness. “Most people you say hello to and they say hello back, but they didn’t,” Melissa Matthews said.
Dilfuza Iskhakova, who lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, told the Guardian that Saipov stayed with her for several months back in 2011, soon after arriving from Uzbekistan.
“He seemed like a nice guy, but he didn’t talk much,” Iskhakova said. “He only went to work and came back. He used to work at a warehouse.”
Kobiljon Matkarov, who met Saipov five years ago in Florida, told the New York Post his fellow Uzbeki is a “very good guy, he is very friendly… he is like little brother… he look at me like big brother.”
Matkarov said he last saw the suspect in June when Saipov gave his family a lift to JFK Airport. He said he didn’t know Saipov to have any terrorist connections.
Links to the Islamic State group
“There is no evidence to suggest a wider plot or a wider scheme,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday. This suggests Saipov was acting alone, but Rafiq said the suspect would likely had contact with someone prior to the attack.
“He will definitely have had access or contact with people who are either fellow travelers ideologically, potential wannabe jihadists, or somebody who has egged him on to make him believe that by doing what he was doing, he was supporting the cause,” he said.
This is backed up by Haroon Ullah, a terrorism expert who previously worked as a senior advisor at the State Department on countering violent extremism. “With regards to ISIS and other extremist groups, research shows there is a rarely a ‘lone-wolf attack’,” he told VICE News. “Attackers and recruits are touched and engaged by dozens if not hundreds almost daily.”
Rafiq said it’s “strange” that ISIS had not claimed responsibility, especially as the group has published its evening and morning digest since the attack took place. There could be a number of reasons for this, he said.
Firstly, Islamic State was unaware the attack was taking place. Contrary to popular opinion, the terror group is not privy to all attacks that take place in its name.
Secondly, following the recent assault on Raqqa, the group no longer has the media infrastructure in place to claim responsibility.
Thirdly, Islamic State requires followers to have “ijaza” — permission from a superior — before they can release a statement. This could be holding things up.
“They have in the past put out notices without direct command and people then have suffered the consequences for that internally,” Rafiq said.
However, Ullah said Islamic State might never claim responsibility: “If perpetrated or directed by ISIS, they may never claim it. But what ISIS fanboys will do is amplify the news, claim the terrorist as one of their own or being ‘inspired’ by the group and allows them to cut him/her loose if they don’t like messaging.”