Federal prosecutors have filed terrorism charges against the Uzbek immigrant accused of running down and eight people with a truck in New York City.
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, allegedly drove a rented truck down a crowded bicycle path in downtown Manhattan Tuesday, running over bike riders and pedestrians. The truck hit a school bus, and Saipov jumped out of the damaged truck. He was waving what turned out to be a paintball gun and a pellet gun before he was shot in the stomach by a New York police officer.
Federal charges against him include providing material support to a terror group and destruction of motor vehicles.
Suspect questioned in hospital
Saipov asked law enforcement officers interviewing him to display an Islamic State flag in his hospital room and said “he felt good about what he’d done,” according to the criminal complaint.
U.S. President Donald Trump reacted strongly to those details in a Twitter post late Wednesday.
“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” Trump wrote.
Saipov told investigators from his hospital bed that he had planned the attack for weeks and was inspired to carry it out after watching Islamic State videos on his cellphone.
According to the criminal complaint, one of two cellphones recovered from Saipov’s rental truck contained about 90 videos and about 3,800 images, many of them showing Islamic State propaganda and graphic acts of violence.
In particular, Saipov said he was motivated by a video in which Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi challenged “Muslims in the United States and elsewhere (about) what they were doing to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq.”
The second cellphone’s internet browsing history offered investigators important clues about Saipov’s movements leading up to the attack, revealing an Oct. 4 search for the car rental in New Jersey, a search for Halloween and a car rental in New York on Oct. 15, and another car rental search on Oct. 18.
Islamic State has urged its followers to do exactly what Saipov is charged with doing: use cars and trucks as weapons and drive them along busy pedestrian areas to kill as many people as possible.
Deputy New York Police Commissioner John Miller told reporters notes linked to Saipov were found at the crime scene.
“The notes were handwritten in Arabic,” Miller said. “They had symbols and words. But the gist of the note was that the Islamic State would endure forever.”
Authorities have also linked Saipov to social media accounts that contain Islamic State-related material. The militant group has, so far, not claimed responsibility.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the attack was the “definition of terrorism. This was an attack on our values.”
He said there are no “additional or credible” threats against the city at this time and urged New Yorkers to “be strong, be proud, be resilient, show the whole world right now, we will not be moved by terror.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called Saipov “a depraved coward” and earlier told CNN that he was “radicalized domestically.”
Tuesday’s crime using a rented truck was similar to terrorist vehicle attacks carried out in other Western countries in recent years.
New America, a nonpartisan research center, said 15 vehicular attacks have been carried out since 2014, killing more than 140 people.
Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, said Wednesday the attack was ruthless and cruel, and that his government stood ready to use all means to assist in the investigation.
The New York Police Department said it will increase the number of officers throughout the city “out of an abundance of caution.”
Masood Farivar, Ken Bredemeier and Chris Hannas contributed to this report.