NEW YORK (Agencies) – The pickup truck driver who ploughed down a New York cycle path, killing eight people on Tuesday was associated with the Islamic State (IS) group but “radicalised domestically”, the state’s governor said yesterday.
The driver, identified as an Uzbek national named Sayfullo Saipov, mowed down pedestrians and cyclists over a kilometre-long stretch of the bike path on Tuesday in an exclusive neighbourhood of Lower’s Manhattan’s West Side, where children and their parents were preparing to celebrate Halloween.
Police shot Mr Saipov, 29, in the stomach at the end of the rampage, but he was expected to survive.
Handwritten notes in Arabic were found near his vehicle, pledging allegiance to the jihadist group, the New York Times reported, citing law enforcement officials. Documents found inside the truck included a picture of an IS flag, the New York Post said.
“He’s a depraved coward is what he is, and he was associated with Isis, and he was radicalised domestically, and he’s a depraved coward,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN.
Mr Cuomo said investigators had determined that the suspect, who reportedly entered the United States in 2010, had since shown an interest in the IS and its terror tactics, but that there was no evidence so far that others helped him plot the attack.
“Our only evidence to date is that this was an isolated incident that he, himself, performed,” the governor said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the suspect should be held as an enemy combatant in order to gather intelligence.
Five of the eight killed were Argentine nationals, part of a group visiting New York from the city of Rosario for a school reunion, the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires said. Brussels said a Belgian woman on a trip with her mother and sister was killed. Eleven people, including an Argentine and three Belgians, were also wounded.
President Donald Trump has denounced the attacker as “very sick” and a “deranged person”, and announced a stepping-up of his “extreme vetting programme” for foreign travellers to the country.
The US “must not” allow IS group jihadists to “return, or enter” the country after being defeated overseas, Mr Trump said.
Yesterday the president tweeted that the suspect had entered the US via a visa lottery programme supported by opposition Democrats.
“We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter),” Mr Trump tweeted.
Mr Saipov was living in Tampa, Florida and had recently been staying in New Jersey, where the truck was rented, reports said. Law enforcement sources said he was arrested in Missouri on a traffic violation last year.
Police said he drove a rented Home Depot pickup down a bike and pedestrian lane just after 3pm, before colliding with a school bus, wounding two adults and two children. He then fled the vehicle brandishing weapons that were subsequently identified as a paintball gun and pellet gun, before being shot in the abdomen by a police officer and taken into custody.
US media said he shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest”), and New York police chief James O’Neill confirmed he made a statement when he exited the vehicle that had led investigators to “label this a terrorist event”.
“There was a smell of gunshots,” said John Williams, 22, who arrived at the scene 30 seconds afterwards. “There was a man lying on the ground. It looked as if he’d been shot.”
“When the cops shot him, everybody started running away and it got a little bit crazy right there. So when I tried to look again, the guy was already down,” a witness named Frank told NY1.