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New York Attack: Suspect had been planning ‘for weeks,’ police say

NEW YORK — After a 29-year-old man drove a truck into a Manhattan crowd on Tuesday, killing eight and wounding almost a dozen in the deadliest terror attack to hit the city since 9/11, New Yorkers made it clear that they refused to be intimidated.

The suspect in the truck attack in New York had been planning it for “a number of weeks,” and followed instructions ISIS has put out to its followers on how to carry out such attacks, Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said Wednesday at a news conference.

Families celebrated a traditional Halloween Parade hours after the attack, surrounded by police officers armed with long guns while dozens of local and federal law enforcement officers were still investigating the attack.

“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them.”

The suspect has been identified as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, according to two law enforcement sources. He allegedly drove a rented pickup truck onto a busy bike path near the World Trade Center, crashed the truck into a school bus, then stepped outside brandishing imitation firearms. A police officer shot him in the abdomen, and he underwent surgery at a local hospital.

Here are the latest developments in the attack:

  • Saipov had been an Uber driver in New Jersey for over six months, the company told CNN. The company is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.
  • The New York police officer who shot and apprehended the suspect in Tuesday’s attack has been identified as Ryan Nash, a law enforcement source told CNN. The 28-year-old officer joined the department in 2012.
  • Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Twitter that five Argentine citizens were killed: Hernán Mendoza, Diego Angelini, Alejandro Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi.
  • Authorities found a note, written in English, in the truck police said was used in the attack claiming the suspect did it in the name of ISIS, a senior law enforcement official told CNN.

The victims

In a matter of minutes, a popular bike path in New York’s lower Manhattan turned into a horrific scene. Crumpled bicycles littered the street as medics tended to the wounded.

Six people were declared dead at the scene, two were pronounced dead at the hospital and about a dozen were injured. Several were tourists visiting from abroad.

Five friends from Argentina who were celebrating their high school reunion were killed, Argentina’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

“The Argentine Government expresses its sincere condolences for the death of Argentine citizens Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi which occurred as a result of the dramatic terrorist attack in New York this afternoon,” the ministry said in a statement.

They had traveled to New York from Rosario, a town nearly 200 miles northwest of the country’s capital of Buenos Aires. They were celebrating the 30th anniversary of their graduation from the Polytechnic School, a technical high school in Rosario.

A sixth Argentine national who was also part of the group was injured during the attack. He was out of danger, the ministry said, but as of Tuesday night, he was still recovering at New York-Presbyterian’s Lower Manhattan Hospital.

“Deeply moved by the tragic deaths this afternoon in NY. We put ourselves at the disposition of the families of the Argentinian victims,” Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri tweeted.

Didier Reynders, deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister for Belgium, said a Belgian national was also among those killed on Tuesday’s attack.

Witness accounts

News footage showed crowds of spectators — some capturing the scene with cellphone cameras — gathered behind police lines. A white Home Depot truck with the front end smashed was also visible.

Eugene Duffy said he had just left work at Pier 26 and was waiting on the light to cross West Street when he heard a scream. He thought it might have been a Halloween prank but he said the scream was bloodcurdling.

“I look down and I see a white pickup truck a couple of more blocks down in the bike path,” he said. “Automatically, I know something’s wrong. Then, as I go down more toward where the girl is screaming, I see two gentlemen laying there and they have tire tracks marked across their bodies. You could tell they both weren’t here.”

He continued to walk closer to the scene. Gunshots rang out. He saw police officers ducking for cover. A yellow school bus was smashed nearby. Police descended on the area.

“I thought automatically, this area, I thought it was terrorism,” he said.

Michael Corbin, the assistant real estate manager for District Council 37, the city’s largest public employees union, was standing outside the union’s lower Manhattan offices attending to a woman who slipped and fell on the sidewalk.

“The first responder to the event was a counterterrorism officer,” he said. “We were attending to the victim, getting her onto a stretcher and, at that moment, we heard gunshots. I recalled hearing five gunshots in quick succession and immediately the officer … left to investigate the situation from the direction we heard the noise coming from.”

Another witness, Ramon Cruz, described what he saw.

“What I saw was that the driver — he didn’t look like he was bleeding,” said Cruz. “He was dragging his foot. He looks frustrated, panicked, confused. People are running past me, saying, ‘He’s got a gun. He’s got a gun.’ I didn’t see any gun.

“It was a white pickup truck. He looked pretty bad without bleeding or anything like that. I didn’t see him hit anybody. All I heard was the impact of a crash.”

Tuesday afternoon on Twitter, a user posted an image of a person lying on the ground near the scene of an incident near West & Chambers Streets in Manhattan.

 

The suspect

After he was shot, Saipov underwent surgery on Tuesday. Officers were able to talk to him before the surgery, but it was unclear if he told them anything, a law enforcement source told CNN.

Saipov came to the United States in 2010 from the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, a law enforcement source said.

Most recently, he lived in New Jersey, according to a law enforcement source. Neighbors said that he recently lived at least part-time in Paterson, New Jersey, not far from New York.

Related: Hear Connecticut’s reaction and response to the latest terror attack in NYC.

Just over six months ago, Saipov began driving for Uber in New Jersey, the company told CNN. He passed a background check and did not have any rider complaints about his safety as a driver, according to Uber.

He once listed his occupation as a truck driver, his marriage license shows.

The suspect had multiple interactions with law enforcement in several states, online records show. Saipov had traffic citations issued in Missouri and Pennsylvania. He was arrested by the Missouri State Highway Patrol in October 2016 after a warrant was issued when he failed to show in court for a misdemeanor offense. He paid a $200 bond, which he forfeited when he didn’t show up in court for his next hearing in November. A guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

Authorities are sure to look at whether the suspect visited Uzbekistan since he moved to the United States seven years ago, CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said.

“There has been a significant problem with jihadism in Uzbekistan,” he said.

According to Cruickshank there are two large jihadi groups in the country. One of them is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is affiliated with ISIS.

In April, an Uzbek man was arrested after a truck attack killed five people in Stockholm.

Rented truck used

The incident is being investigated as terrorism, officials said. Witnesses reported the suspect was yelling “Allahu Akbar,” according to four law enforcement sources. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is taking over the lead of the investigation.

Vehicles have been used as weapons in a number of terrorist attacks in recent years, including in deadly incidents in London and Nice, France.

The suspect, driving in a Home Depot rental truck, hopped a curb at West Houston Street and drove south on the bike path on the west side of West Side Highway in lower Manhattan for several blocks, officials said.

After crashing the truck into a school bus, the suspect left the vehicle while displaying imitation firearms and was shot in the abdomen by a police officer, according to the NYPD.

A pellet gun and a paintball gun were recovered from the scene, officials said.

Just after the incident, news footage showed several mangled bicycles on the popular bike path as medics tended to the wounded in the background.

Six people were declared dead at the scene and two were pronounced dead at the hospital. At least 11 others were transported to the hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, according to New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

Five of those killed were Argentinians, a group of friends celebrating the 30th anniversary of graduates of the Polytechnic School in their hometown, the country’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

A spokesman for Home Depot confirmed one of the company’s rental trucks was part of an incident in lower Manhattan and said the company is “cooperating with authorities” in the investigation.

Vehicles as weapons

Tuesday’s attack turned an ordinary vehicle into a lethal weapon, a tactic used in other recent attacks in the West.

In 2014, an ISIS spokesman called for lone wolf attacks using improvised weaponry. “If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock or slaughter him with a knife or run him over with your car or throw him down from a high place or choke him or poison him.”

Since 2014, there have been 15 vehicular attacks in the West by jihadist terrorists, killing 142 people, according to a count by New America, a nonpartisan research institution. Those figures include Tuesday’s attack in Manhattan.

For the past few years, police in New York have reached out to businesses that rent vehicles to warn them about possible terror threats and to let them know about ways to come forward.

“We did extensive outreach to the truck rental business. We visited over 148 truck rental locations in this area,” New York Police’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said at a Tuesday news conference. “The industry has had a high level of awareness on this matter from the NYPD.”

Miller said that if a company is suspicious of a would-be renter, they usually delay or simply deny a rental to let police investigate it.

The suspect drove a Home Depot rental truck he drove from New Jersey, Miller said.

A spokesman for Home Depot confirmed one of the company’s rental trucks was part of an incident in lower Manhattan and said the company is “cooperating with authorities” in the investigation.