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New York Suspect Charged With Terrorism; Trump Calls For Death Penalty


Police tape rests on a damaged Home Depot truck after a man drove onto a bike path near the World Trade Center memorial on October 31 in New York City.
Police tape rests on a damaged Home Depot truck after a man drove onto a bike path near the World Trade Center memorial on October 31 in New York City.

U.S. prosecutors brought terrorism charges against an Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in a New York truck rampage, saying he was inspired by the Islamic State extremist group.

Prosecutors told a U.S. court in Manhattan on November 1 that Sayfullo Saipov asked to display IS's black flag in his hospital room after he was shot by police, and said "he felt good about what he had done."

Saipov was brought to court in a wheelchair in handcuffs and with his feet shackled to face the charges, which could bring the death penalty.

U.S. President Donald Trump said Saipov deserved the death penalty in a tweet late on November 1: "NYC terrorist was happy...he killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!"

Prosecutors said Saipov had waived his legal rights and openly confessed to the attack while being questioned in custody at a hospital after being shot.

Meanwhile, the FBI said it had found a second man from Uzbekistan, 32-year-old Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, who it sought for questioning in the case.

Saipov nodded his head repeatedly as he was read his rights in a brief court proceeding that he followed through a Russian interpreter.

His court-appointed lawyer, David Patton, said Saipov was in "a significant amount of pain" and asked that he continue to get medical care for the bullet wound in his abdomen in a U.S. jail where he is being held without bail.

"I hope, given all of the attention in this case and all of the attention that it's sure to continue to receive, that everyone lets the judicial process play out," he said. "I promise you that how we treat Mr. Saipov in this judicial process will say a lot more about us than it will say about him."

Saipov stands accused of driving a rented Home Depot pickup truck that mowed down bicyclists and pedestrians on October 31, killing eight people and injuring 12 as it barreled down a bike path near the where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood. He was also charged with providing material support to a terrorist group.

Prosecutors said he had 90 videos and 3,800 photos on one of his two cellphones, many of them IS-related propaganda, including images of prisoners being beheaded, shot, or run over by a tank.

Court documents said that Saipov deliberately chose Halloween to stage the attack "because he believed there would be more civilians on the street" and more people would be killed.

Saipov left behind knives and a note, in Arabic and English, that included Islamic religious references, FBI agent Amber Tyree said in court papers.

Questioned in his hospital bed, Saipov said he had been inspired by IS videos that he watched on his cellphone, and began plotting an attack about a year ago, deciding to use a truck about two months ago, Tyree said.

During the last few weeks, Saipov searched the internet for information on Halloween in New York City and for truck rentals, the agent said.

Saipov rented a truck on October 22 to practice for the attack, and he initially had planned to drive the truck from the bike path across lower Manhattan to hit more pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge, Tyree said.

Saipov considered displaying IS flags on the truck during the attack, but decided against it because he did not want to draw attention, authorities said.

John Miller, deputy New York police commissioner for intelligence, said Saipov "appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions that IS has put out" on how to stage attacks on Westerners.

In the past few years, IS online posts have exhorted followers to use vehicles, knives, or other readily available means of killing people in their home countries.

England, France, Sweden, Spain, and Germany are among the countries which have all seen similar deadly vehicle attacks since mid-2016.

Carlos Batista, a neighbor of Saipov's in Paterson, New Jersey, said he had seen the suspect and two friends using the same model of rented truck several times in the past three weeks.

Miller said Saipov was not a subject of criminal investigation before the attack, but he appears to have had links with people who were under investigation.

In the New York attack, Saipov drove his speeding truck for nearly a mile along a bike path before crashing into a school bus, authorities said.

He was shot in the abdomen after he jumped out of the vehicle brandishing two air guns, one in each hand, and yelling "God is great!" in Arabic, they said.

The attack killed five people from Argentina, one from Belgium, and two Americans, authorities said. Another 12 people were injured; nine remained hospitalized in serious or critical condition.

The attack quickly became a political issue in the United States when President Donald Trump cited Saipov's immigrant status in vowing to crack down on immigration, and in particular said he wants to eliminate the visa lottery program that Saipov used to come to the United States in 2010.

Because of the lottery program, the slight, bearded Saipov is a legal, permanent U.S. resident. The program dates to 1990, when Republican President George H.W. Bush signed it as part of a bipartisan immigration bill.

Trump called on Congress to eliminate it, saying, "We have to get much tougher, much smarter and less politically correct."

Trump called Saipov "this animal" and said he had brought in other people to the United States and was the "point of contact" for 23 people, without providing further details. The president said he would "certainly consider" sending Saipov to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Saipov could be deemed an "enemy combatant," like the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, based on his actions, although no such legal determination has as yet been made.

New York leaders on November 1 vowed that the city would not be cowed by the attack and said the New York City Marathon will go on as scheduled on November 5, with increased security. Some 50,000 participants and 2 million spectators are expected to participate.

Acquaintances of Saipov said he was a commercial truck driver while living in Ohio, but recently moved to New Jersey with his wife and three small children and was working as an Uber driver.

Mirrakhmat Muminov, a fellow truck driver from Uzbekistan, said Saipov was argumentative and "not happy with his life" as his career as a truck driver recently appeared to be falling apart.

"He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody," said Muminov, who told RFE/RL that Saipov was not very religious when he came to the United States but appeared to get radicalized by reading IS posts online.

A source in Uzbekistan's security services told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that Saipov's mother, father, and 17-year-old sister were being questioned in the Central Asian country on November 1. The source was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The investigation in Uzbekistan was launched after Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev said in a statement posted to the Foreign Ministry's website on November 1 that his government "is ready to use all forces and resources to help in the investigation of this act of terror."

Uzbek security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, told RFE/RL that Saipov's parents live in Tashkent's Uchtepa district and are merchants at the city's Bektopi market.

The officials in Uzbekistan, where the state's concern about Islamic extremism have increased as citizens of the predominantly Muslim former Soviet republic have traveled to Afghanistan and the Middle East to fight alongside Islamic extremists, said the family was not known to be particularly religious.

Prosecutors said Saipov took his cues from IS advice posted online, which has inspired similar attacks in Europe by Islamic extremists using vehicles to crash into pedestrians in the last 16 months.

in July 2016, a man drove a large truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds more. IS claimed responsibility for the attack.

Five months later, a Tunisian asylum seeker who had pledged allegiance to IS extremists plowed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48.

In April of 2017, a failed asylum seeker from Uzbekistan careened down a busy street in a truck in central Stockholm, crashing into a department store and killing four people in what the prime minister called a terrorist attack.

And on August 17, a driver rammed his van into crowds in the heart of Barcelona, killing 13 people, in an attack authorities said was carried out by suspected Islamist militants.

In a previous vehicular attack in the United States, a Somali-born student at Ohio State University -- described by authorities as an Islamic extremist inspired by IS -- staged an attack in Ohio in November 2016 but did not kill anyone.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, RFE/RL correspondent Pete Baumgartner, AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa
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