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Fatal NYC truck incident called an act of terror, here’s what it has in common with recent European attacks

After a deadly truck attack killed eight in Manhattan on Tuesday, multiple news networks have identified the driver as Sayfullo Saipov of Tampa, Florida. John Yang speaks with Lorenzo Vidino of George Washington University about how the latest incident may fit into recent acts of extremism in Europe.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now following up on our lead story, this afternoon’s truck attack in Lower Manhattan.

    John Yang joins us for an update.

  • John Yang:

    Thanks, Judy.

    At least eight people are dead and 11 more injured after that pickup truck plowed through a busy bicycle path along the West Side Highway.

    Multiple news networks have identified the attacker as 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov of Tampa, Florida. Witnesses and law enforcement officials say he shouted “Allahu akbar” after exiting the vehicle.

    Joining us to talk about this now is Lorenzo Vidino, the director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

    Lorenzo, thanks for joining us.

    A single actor, a vehicular attack using a rented truck. The police say no evidence of a wider plot. What does that tell you about who or what is behind this?

  • Lorenzo Vidino:

    Well, we obviously don’t know details about this individual.

    I would say that, prima facie, it’s very similar to the dynamics that we have seen in many European countries over the last couple of years, the Barcelona attack back in August, Stockholm, the Berlin Christmas market attack, a couple events in London, where individuals have rented trucks or stole trucks, used them in pedestrian areas, tried to kill as many people as possible, and then, in this case, as, for example, in London or Barcelona, getting out of the truck, and then trying to attack, in some cases with shooting, in some cases stabbing, other pedestrians.

    In many cases, these individuals who carried out the attacks were not linked operationally to ISIS. These were people who had obviously received inspiration from the group. They might have been in contact with people within the organization online, but it was acts carried out without any kind of structural support.

    It remains to be seen obviously if that was the case in New York. Obviously, I think that’s the initial assessment of something relatively unsophisticated. But I think that’s clearly what investigators are looking into now, whether this individual received support, which could mean somebody rented the truck for him or in a way guided him throughout this process.

  • John Yang:

    He was shot in the abdomen. We understand he’s in surgery. If he were to survive, would this be a valuable thing to be able to question him?

  • Lorenzo Vidino:

    Yes, absolutely.

    And I think kudos to the policemen who shot him in the leg. And I think if — particularly if this individual was connected to other individuals, there is an intelligence value, particularly in the next few hours, in trying to get information out of him, trying to see if he has a network, if he has connections, and trying to arrest those individuals.

    So, absolutely, the ability to question him, particularly in the first 24 hours, is immensely valuable.

  • John Yang:

    A little bit ago, the president tweeted, “We must not allow ISIS” — he’s already concluded that it is ISIS.

    “We must not allow ISIS to return or enter our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough,” he says.

    Is there a connection between the military actions in the Middle East against ISIS, the efforts against ISIS, and what’s happening now, what happened today, do you think?

  • Lorenzo Vidino:

    To some degree. Obviously, very difficult to say with the little information we have at this point.

    What is clear is that we have seen many attacks, I would say around 60 attacks, over the last three years, since ISIS declared the caliphate in June 2014, in Europe and in North America inspired by ISIS, for the most part. We have seen only a couple of them carried out by individuals who are trained and dispatched by ISIS.

    The standard attack that we see is carried out by individuals with no operational connections. Clearly, over the last few weeks, we have seen people who are trying to say, the caliphate is still here, we’re still around.

  • John Yang:

    Lorenzo Vidino, thank you very much.

  • Lorenzo Vidino:

    My pleasure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And thank you, John.

    And you can follow this story online. We will be providing the

    latest updates

    as we go on. And that’s on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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