The suspect in Tuesday’s fatal truck attack in New York City faces two counts of federal terrorism charges, prosecutors said Wednesday night.
The first is material support of a terrorist organization, in this case ISIS. The second is a charge of violence and destruction caused by a motor vehicle, with willful disregard for the safety of human life that resulted in multiple deaths.
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, is a native of Uzbekistan who came to the U.S. legally in 2010. Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim laid out some of the evidence supporting the charges against him, including:
- A note found at the scene that included phrases commonly associated with ISIS.
- Officials found three knives and two cell phones at the scene that contained thousands of ISIS-related images and videos. The images captured apparent ISIS fighters killing and beheading prisoners.
- In interviews with law enforcement over two days, Saipov admitted that he was inspired by the ISIS videos he had watched and had planned the attack for two months.
- Saipov also admitted to investigators that he rented a truck on Oct. 22 to practice the turns he would make on the Halloween Day attack in lower Manhattan.
Officials said it will take several more weeks to completely understand the suspect’s motive, along with the reach and influence of his social network.
What else do we know about the suspect?
Kim called Saipov “a man consumed by hate and a twisted ideology.”
Saipov said he choose to attack on Halloween, because there would be more civilians on the street, and that after running over pedestrians on Manhattan’s West Street, also known as the West Side Highway, he intended to proceed to the Brooklyn Bridge, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, Sapiov “requested to display the ISIS flag in his hospital room” during an interview with law enforcement officials. He also said he felt good about what he had done.
The September 2016 issue of ISIS’ Rumiyah magazine called for vehicle attacks on civilians, including the New York City Thanksgiving parade. John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said Sipov followed “almost to a T” the ISIS playbook.
But “we don’t know his path to radicalization yet,” Miller said at the news conference. Miller said the evidence and Saipov’s methods indicated “that he was a follower of ISIS propaganda, social media, and frankly, tactical instruction.”
At his initial appearance in Manhattan federal court Wednesday evening, Saipov was shackled to a wheelchair and did not enter a plea. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15. But an indictment updating the charges against him is likely before that date.
The second of the charges against Saipov could make him eligible for the death penalty, pending a Justice Department review.
On Wednesday evening on Twitter, President Donald Trump announced that he would support seeking the death penalty for Saipov. On Thursday morning, Mr. Trump backtracked from his earlier comments suggesting Guantanamo as his preferred venue for prosecuting the suspect.
“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” the president wrote on Twitter.
As the NewsHour has reported, after 9/11, federal prosecutors won more than 350 terrorism-related convictions in federal court. They’ve since obtained a 100 percent conviction rate in all of the ISIS-related cases that have been resolved. By contrast, the military commissions at Guantanamo have secured only eight convictions, half later reversed, and generally lighter sentences.
PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.