New York attack suspect followed IS online instructions

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Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the New York City truck attack, is seen in this handout photo. (St. Charles County Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters)

NEW YORK — An Uzbek immigrant suspected of killing eight people in New York City by plowing a truck into cyclists and pedestrians on a New York City bike path followed online plans from Islamic State and left a note extolling the militant group, police said on Wednesday.

Police said they had interviewed Sayfullo Saipov, 29, who remained hospitalized after an officer shot him in the abdomen, ending the rampage. They said Saipov appeared to have been planning the attack for weeks and that investigators recovered notes and knives at the scene.

“The gist of the note was that the Islamic State would endure forever,” New York Deputy Police Commissioner John Miller told a news conference. “He appears to have followed almost exactly the instructions that ISIS has put out on its social media channels to its followers.”

The attack was the deadliest in New York City since September 11, 2001, when suicide hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,600 people.

Tuesday’s attack injured 12 people, some critically, in addition to those killed.

Similar assaults using vehicles as weapons took place in Spain in August and in France and Germany last year.

Authorities said Saipov was driving a truck he had rented from a Home Depot store in New Jersey to run down pedestrians and cyclists on the path, just blocks from the World Trade Center site, before slamming into the side of a school bus.

He exited the vehicle brandishing what turned out to be a paint-ball gun and a pellet gun and was then shot by police officer Ryan Nash, 28, who was hailed as a hero by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Saipov lived in Paterson, New Jersey, a one-time industrial hub about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of lower Manhattan.

Trump: ‘Send him to Gitmo’

Two senior Republican senators urged authorities to treat Saipov as an enemy combatant, which would allow investigators to question him without having a lawyer present.

President Donald Trump said he would be open to transferring Saipov to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where other suspects including alleged September 11 plotters are held.

“Send him to Gitmo. I would certainly consider that,” Trump told reporters. “We also have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now.”

Cuomo said Saipov had been radicalized while living in the United States.

The majority of the 18 Islamic State-inspired attacks carried out in the United States since September 2014 were the work of attackers who developed radical views while living in the United States, said Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, research director at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Saipov and religion

Five of those killed on Tuesday were Argentine tourists, among a group of friends visiting New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, and a Belgian citizen was also among those killed. Of the other two people killed, one was a New York resident and one lived in New Jersey.

De Blasio said police would be out in force to protect the New York Marathon on Sunday, one of the world’s top road races, which draws some 51,000 runners and 2.5 million spectators from around the globe.

Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, said his government would do all it could to help investigate the “extremely brutal” attack.

Another Uzbek who now lives in Ohio and knew Saipov from the brief time he lived there, said Saipov was struggling to make it in the United States and had few friends and spoke English poorly. He said Saipov “became religious on the spur of the moment” and “couldn’t get enough” of the religious freedoms enjoyed in the United States.

Last week, an Uzbekistan citizen living in Brooklyn was sentenced to 15 years in prison for conspiring to support Islamic State.

Saipov had not been the subject of any U.S. investigation, Miller, the New York deputy police commissioner, said. A U.S. government source told Reuters on Wednesday that Saipov had been in contact with a person who was the subject of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe.

Trump, who has pressed for a ban on the entry into the United States of citizens of some predominantly Muslim countries, criticized the U.S. visa system and blamed Democrats including Senator Chuck Schumer for the visa system that admitted Saipov. Trump said he wanted a “merit-based” immigration program.

“We do not want chain migration, where somebody like him ultimately will be allowed to bring in many, many members of his family,” Trump told reporters.

Schumer shot back at Trump from the Senate floor: “Instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, (Trump) should be bringing us together and focusing on the real solution, anti-terrorism funding, which he proposed to cut in his most recent budget.”