MANHATTAN, NY- At least eight people have been killed and multiple others wounded in an October 31 attack in which a driver plowed a rented truck through a crowded bike path in Lower Manhattan. The attacker, 29 year-old Sayfullo Saipov, sped down the path before colliding with a school bus, then emerged from the truck waving a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Witnesses say Saipov was shouting “Allahu akbar”, Arabic for “God is great”. After running through the street, he was shot in the abdomen by police. Saipov was then transported to a nearby hospital, still alive but injured. A note found near the truck claimed the attack was carried out in the name of ISIS.
Sayfullo Saipov entered the country on a Diversity Visa Lottery. The State Department program, officially known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program, allows certain classes of immigrants from countries with “historically low rates of immigration” to the US, to enter the country. Saipov is from Uzbekistan and has been living in the US since 2010. According to law enforcement officials, he had earned a green card and had entered the country through Kennedy International Airport.
As investigators looked further into Saipov’s history, it became clear that he had already been on the radar of federal authorities. He appeared to have connections to individuals who were the subjects of terrorism investigations, police say.
It was also discovered that Saipov had been planning the attack for weeks. As counterterrorism investigators looked into his background and personal life, it became clear that the people close to him were growing deeply concerned that he was heading down a path of extremism. A preacher at his former mosque in Florida spoke about the situation, explaining that he had tried to steer Saipov away from extremism.
“I used to tell him, ‘Hey, you are too much emotional,’” the preacher said. “‘Read books more. Learn your religion first,’ He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community.” He added, “I never thought that he would go to this extreme.”
In the handwritten note Saipov left at the scene of the attack, he indicated allegiance to the Islamic State, saying that ISIS would endure forever. The language he used seems to mirror that used in instructions spread by ISIS in a 2016 edition of Rumiyah, a publication the group releases, calling for followers to carry out a truck attack and leave behind a note pledging allegiance to the terrorist group. FBI officials say it appears Saipov carried out the attack according to these instructions put out by ISIS.
Such violent calls to action are not new. Terror groups across the world have been encouraging supporters to use any items they have on hand, since it is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain bomb-making materials. Vehicles are increasingly becoming their weapon of choice, as terrorist leaders encourage followers to turn trucks into “mowing machines”—“not to mow down grass but mow down the enemies of Allah”. These words come from an article called “The Ultimate Mowing Machine” in the 2010 edition of the online Al Qaeda publication Inspire, which provided readers with detailed instructions on how to carry out vehicular attacks.
Between these Al Qaeda instructions and those spread by ISIS, large cities have been taking measures to stop attacks like Tuesday’s from happening again. As part of a counterterrorism initiative, concrete barriers have been installed in strategic parts of cities in an effort to keep vehicles away from large numbers of people. Similarly, the New York Police Department has enlisted the help of truck-rental companies, who may act as tipsters against suspicious renters.
In the wake of the Manhattan attack, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that although the episode was the deadliest in the city since the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, New Yorkers would not live in fear.
“We know that this action was intended to break our spirit, but we also know New Yorkers are strong, New Yorkers are resilient,” de Blasio said, adding, “We will not be cowed. We will not be thrown off by anything. […] And our spirit will never be moved by an act of violence, an act meant to intimidate us.”
Three of the injured victims have now been released from hospitals, with the rest of the surviving victims still hospitalized in critical but stable condition.
President Trump has said in a statement that his administration will provide its full support to the NYPD and the FBI as their joint investigation into the attack continues.