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New York terror suspect linked to social media with ISIS-related material

Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov

NEW YORK — All it took was a man and a truck to inflict the deadliest terror attack on New York City since 9/11.

A 29-year-old man plowed into a crowd of bicyclists and pedestrians just blocks away from the World Trade Center Tuesday afternoon. Mangled bicycles littered the street as medics rushed to the victims.

Six victims were killed instantly. Two others died later. And 11 are trying to recover as authorities try to figure out what led to the attack.

“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The suspect has been identified as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, according to two law enforcement sources. The Uzbekistan native allegedly drove a rented pickup truck onto a busy bike path, crashed the truck into a school bus, then stepped outside brandishing imitation firearms.

A police officer shot Saipov in the abdomen, but the suspect survived and underwent surgery Tuesday evening.

Saipov has been linked to social media accounts that contain ISIS-related material, a law enforcement official said Wednesday morning. The official also said Saipov has been somewhat cooperative with FBI and New York police investigators who questioned him in the hospital overnight.

Here are the latest developments in the attack:

  • Authorities conducted search warrants overnight at Saipov’s home in New Jersey.
  • Saipov had been an Uber driver in New Jersey for over six months, the company told CNN. Uber is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.
  • The President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev said in an open letter published Wednesday that his country will use all “means necessary” to help the investigation. The suspect came to the US from the central Asian nation in 2010.
  • The New York police officer who shot and apprehended Saipov has been identified as 28-year-old Ryan Nash, a law enforcement source told CNN.
  • Authorities found a note near the truck used in the attack claiming the action was taken in the name of ISIS , a senior law enforcement official said.

The suspect

Officers were able to talk to Saipov before the surgery, but it was unclear if he told them anything, a law enforcement source told CNN.

Saipov came to the United States in 2010 from the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, a law enforcement source said.

Most recently, he lived in New Jersey, according to a law enforcement source. Neighbors said he recently lived at least part-time in Paterson, New Jersey, not far from New York.

Just over six months ago, Saipov began driving for Uber in New Jersey, the company told CNN. He passed a background check and did not have any rider complaints about his safety as a driver, according to Uber.

He once listed his occupation as a truck driver, his marriage license shows.

Saipov had multiple run-ins with law enforcement in several states, online records show. He had traffic citations issued in Missouri and Pennsylvania and was arrested by the Missouri State Highway Patrol in October 2016 after failing to show up in court for a misdemeanor offense.

He paid a $200 bond, which he forfeited when he didn’t show up in court for his next hearing in November. A guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

The victims

Among the eight people killed, five were friends from Argentina celebrating their high school reunion in New York City, Argentina’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

“The Argentine Government expresses its sincere condolences for the death of Argentine citizens Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi which occurred as a result of the dramatic terrorist attack in New York this afternoon,” the ministry said in a statement.

They had traveled to New York from Rosario, a town nearly 200 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, to mark the 30th anniversary of their graduation from the Polytechnic School, a technical high school in Rosario.

A sixth Argentine national who was also part of the group was injured during the attack. He was out of danger, the ministry said, but as of Tuesday night, he was still recovering at New York-Presbyterian’s Lower Manhattan Hospital.

“Deeply moved by the tragic deaths this afternoon in NY,” Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri tweeted. “We put ourselves at the disposition of the families of the Argentinian victims.”

Didier Reynders, deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister for Belgium, said a Belgian national was also among those killed.

Vehicles as weapons

Tuesday’s attack turned an ordinary vehicle into a lethal weapon, a tactic used in other recent attacks in the West.

In 2014, an ISIS spokesman called for lone wolf attacks using improvised weaponry. “If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock or slaughter him with a knife or run him over with your car or throw him down from a high place or choke him or poison him.”

Since 2014, there have been 15 vehicular attacks in the West by jihadist terrorists, killing 142 people, according to a count by New America, a nonpartisan research institution. Those figures include Tuesday’s attack in Manhattan.

For the past few years, police in New York have reached out to businesses that rent vehicles to warn them about possible terror threats and to let them know about ways to come forward.

“We did extensive outreach to the truck rental business. We visited over 148 truck rental locations in this area,” New York Police’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said at a Tuesday news conference. “The industry has had a high level of awareness on this matter from the NYPD.”

Miller said that if a company is suspicious of a would-be renter, they usually delay or simply deny a rental to let police investigate it.

The suspect drove a Home Depot rental truck he drove from New Jersey, Miller said.

A spokesman for Home Depot confirmed one of the company’s rental trucks was part of an incident in lower Manhattan and said the company is “cooperating with authorities” in the investigation.