NEW YORK - A man who entered the United States in 2010 under a diversity visa program used a rented pickup truck to mow down pedestrians and cyclists along a busy bike path near the World Trade Center Memorial on Tuesday, killing eight and injuring 12, authorities said. The mayor called the mayhem "a particularly cowardly act of terror."
The driver, identified as Sayfullo Saipov, 29, jumped out of the truck with what turned out to be a fake gun in each hand and shouted what witnesses said was "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is great," authorities said. An NYPD officer shot him in the abdomen. Saipov underwent surgery and was in critical condition but was expected to survive.
Federal authorities say Saipov was inspired by ISIS online videos and plotted his attack for two months, and even practiced the attack ahead of time. He had hoped to continue on to the Brooklyn Bridge to hit more pedestrians.
They say he chose the attack date to target Halloween crowds, according to the criminal complaint. And after his trail of terror was halted by a police bullet, he asked to display the Islamic State group's flag in his hospital room, saying "he felt good about what he had done," authorities said.
Brought to court in a wheelchair, Saipov was held without bail on charges that could bring the death penalty. Separately, the FBI was questioning people who might have information about his actions before the attack, including a second Uzbek man.
Saipov was charged with providing material support to terrorist group ISIS and violence and destruction of a motor vehicle that resulted in death, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
"A man consumed by hate and a twisted ideology attacked our country and our city," Kim said. "He killed eight innocent human beings."
Deputy Commissioner John Miller said the attacker had been planning the attack for weeks and had "multiple knives" in addition to the imitation guns.
Saipov is from Uzbekistan and came to the U.S. legally in 2010. He has a Florida driver's license but recently moved to Paterson, New Jersey, with his wife and children, officials said.
Officials said he followed ISIS suggestions on how to carry out the attack.
He barreled along the bike and pedestrian path in a rented Home Depot truck, targeting bikers and runners, before slamming into a small yellow school bus. The mayhem and the burst of police gunfire set off panic in the neighborhood and left the pavement strewn with mangled bicycles and bodies that were soon covered with sheets.
"I saw a lot of blood over there. A lot of people on the ground," said Chen Yi, an Uber driver.
At approximately 3:05pm a 29 y/o male drove a rented Home Depot truck onto the bike/pedestrian path at West St/Houston St driving south. The truck drove south on the path striking multiple people. 8 people were killed, 11 have serious but non-life threatening injuries. While driving south on the path the truck collided with a school bus at West St & Chambers St. After colliding with the school bus the man exited holding two firearms. An officer assigned to the area fired, striking him in the stomach. The driver of the truck, a male 29-years-old, was taken into custody. A paintball gun and pellet gun were recovered from the scene.
Eugene Duffy, a chef at a waterfront restaurant, said, "So many police came, and they didn't know what was happening. People were screaming. Females were screaming at the top of their lungs."
Argentina's foreign minister said the dead included five Argentine citizens.
Police closed off streets across the western edge of lower Manhattan along the Hudson River, and officers rushed into the neighborhood just as people were preparing for Halloween festivities, including the big annual parade through Greenwich Village.
"This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
New York and other cities around the globe have been on high alert against attacks by extremists in vehicles. The Islamic State has been exhorting its followers to mow down people, and England, France, and Germany have seen deadly vehicle attacks in the past year or so.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it a "lone wolf" attack and said there was no evidence to suggest it was part of a wider plot.
City Police Commissioner James O'Neill said a statement the driver made as he got out of the truck and the method of the attack led police to conclude it was a terrorist act.
On Twitter, President Donald Trump called it "another attack by a very sick and deranged person" and declared, "NOT IN THE U.S.A.!"
Trump railed against the ISIS, tweeting, "We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!"
On Wednesday, Trump called the terror suspect an "animal" and said he would ask Congress to close the immigration lottery program. Trump also said he would consider sending the suspect to the prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and said his other family members in the United States could pose a threat.
Late Wednesday Trump tweeted that Saipov should get teh death penalty.
Police said Saipov rented the truck at about 2:06 p.m. in New Jersey, crossed the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan about 2:43, and a short time later entered the bike path on West Street a few blocks from the new World Trade Center, the site of the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history. The truck then turned at Chambers Street, hitting the school bus and injuring two adults and two children.
Officers found a paintball gun and a pellet gun at the scene, police said. At least two covered-over bodies could be seen lying on the bike path. The front end of the truck and the side of the school bus were smashed in.
Tom Gay, a school photographer, heard people saying there was an accident and went down to West Street, where a woman came around the corner shouting, "He has a gun! He has a gun!"
Gay said he stuck his head around the corner and saw a slender man in a blue tracksuit running on West Street holding a gun. He said a heavyset man was chasing him.
He said he heard five or six shots, and the man in the tracksuit fell to the ground, gun still raised in the air. He said a man came over and kicked the gun out of his hand.
Streets in Lower Manhattan, including leading to the Holland Tunnel remained closed on Wednesday as police continued their investigation.
FBI agents and police searched for evidence in the New Jersey neighborhood where the suspect lived.
On Wednesday, law enforcement cordoned off an apartment building in Paterson. Officers also searched a garage.
The FBI on Wednesday evening released a poster seeking information about a second man possibly connected to the attack but shortly after told reporters that agents found and spoke to him.
Statement by Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke
"On behalf of the men and women of DHS, I want to extend my condolences and prayers to everyone affected by the act of terror yesterday in New York City. Unfortunately, we have recently seen a rise in such senseless attacks across the globe and face a persistent terror threat here at home. DHS and our partners remain alert in the wake of this attack and committed to keeping America safe.
"Last night, I spoke with Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and NYPD Commissioner O'Neill to receive an update on the ongoing investigation as well as to extend the full support of the Department of Homeland Security. While the FBI and NYPD continue to investigate, we are assisting where necessary. I want to thank our federal, state and local partners, first responders and police officers for their brave and tireless work protecting our citizens - yesterday was one more example that their vigilance is much needed.
"Finally, as the people of New York got up this morning and began their day as normal, they once again demonstrated to the world that Americans will not be intimidated or coerced by terrorists. We will continue to counter terrorist hate while relentlessly defending our country, our values, and our way of life."