The 2017 New York City Truck Attack

The truck at the crime scene
The truck at the crime scene

On October 31, 2017, a person drove a rented pickup truck into cyclists and runners for about one mile (1.6 kilometers) of the Hudson River Park’s bike path alongside West Street from Houston Street south to Chambers Street in Lower Manhattan, New York City. The vehicle-ramming attack killed eight people and injured eleven others. After crashing the truck into a school bus, the driver exited, apparently wielding two guns (later found to be a paintball gun and a pellet gun). He was shot in the abdomen by a policeman and arrested. A flag and a document indicating allegiance to the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were found in the truck.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) charged 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov, who had immigrated to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010, with destruction of a motor vehicle and providing material support for a terrorist organization.

Attack

At 2:06 p.m. EDT on October 31, 2017, a man rented a pickup truck at a Home Depot in Passaic, New Jersey. At 2:43 p.m., he crossed the George Washington Bridge and entered Manhattan, proceeding south down the West Side Highway. At 3:04 p.m. at Houston Street near Pier 40, he swerved into the Hudson River Greenway, a protected bike lane of Hudson River Park that runs parallel to West Street. The man ran over people in the bike lane, mainly cyclists, killing eight and injuring seven others along a one mile (1.6 km) stretch.

The driver’s truck crashed into a school bus that was transporting students with special needs. Four people on the bus were injured. The truck stopped near the corner of Chambers Street and West Street, close to Stuyvesant High School. The driver exited the truck and ran, zigzagging, while brandishing weapons that were later found to be a paintball gun and a pellet gun. Police said he shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he stepped out of the vehicle. The suspect was shot in the abdomen by a New York City Police Department officer, taken into custody, and transported to Bellevue Hospital for medical care.

It was the fifteenth vehicular attack in North America and Europe by jihadist terrorists since 2014, according to New America, a nonpartisan research institution. These attacks have killed a total of 142 people. It was also the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since the September 11 attacks of 2001.

Victims

Eight people were killed in the attack, which injured another twelve, including the suspect and two children.

Two of the dead were Americans: a 32-year-old man from New Milford, New Jersey; and a 23-year-old man from Manhattan. The other six were foreign nationals; five tourists were from Argentina, and the sixth was from Belgium. The five Argentine victims, all aged 47 or 48, had been part of a group of ten former classmates at San Martín Polytechnic, a high school in the city of Rosario, Argentina, celebrating their 30th graduation anniversary to fulfill a promise made to each other when they graduated. A sixth member of the group was hospitalized at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital. The Belgian victim was a 31-year-old woman from Staden, on vacation in New York City. Two other Belgians were in critical condition. One surviving victim required the amputation of two limbs.

The victims
The victims

Those killed were Diego Enrique Angelini, Nicholas Cleves, Ann-Laure Decadt, Darren Drake, Ariel Erlij, Hernan Ferruchi, Hernan Diego Mendoza and Alejandro Damian Pagrucco.

Suspect

The suspect, 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov, was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then a part of the Soviet Union, on February 8, 1988, and lived most of his life in the districts of Beltepa and Uchtepa. Saipov was the eldest of four children and their only son. In 2005, he graduated from a professional college and studied at the Tashkent Financial Institute from 2005 to 2009, before working as an accountant.

Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov
Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov

Saipov entered the United States under a Diversity Immigrant Visa in 2010, and is a permanent (“green card”) resident in the U.S. He resided in Stow, Ohio, before moving to Tampa, Florida, and then Paterson, New Jersey. He worked in New Jersey as a driver for the passenger transport company Uber for six months. Public records show he held a commercial truck license. Acquaintances said Saipov had a bad temper that cost him driving jobs. He was issued traffic citations in Maryland in 2011, in Pennsylvania in 2012 and 2015 and in Missouri in 2016, where records showed he was driving a tractor-trailer. In 2015, federal agents interviewed Saipov about his contacts with two suspected terrorists, but a case was not opened against him.

An acquaintance of Saipov since 2010 described him as a “little aggressive”, and not very religious when he arrived in the U.S. A friend in Ohio said he was prone to getting into fights and misunderstandings. An imam at the mosque Saipov attended in Tampa said Saipov was devoted to outward observances of Islam and was very critical of American policies regarding Israel. At Paterson, Saipov lived behind and regularly prayed at a local mosque, Masjid Omar (which had been a subject of surveillance by an NYPD dragnet surveillance program on Muslims), during the three months preceding the attack.

One of Saipov’s sisters in Uzbekistan, who was in regular contact with him, said he had recently expressed a desire to return to his home country, but that he never had any grievances against the U.S. She also said their mother visited Saipov twice, with the second visit occurring earlier that year, and never noticed any signs of radicalization from him.

On November 1, federal prosecutors charged Saipov with providing material support for terrorism that has caused at least one death. He did not enter a plea during his appearance in federal court. The charges were supplemented on November 21 to include eight counts of murder in aid of racketeering, twelve counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering, one count of providing and attempting to provide and providing material support for terrorism, and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle resulting in death. On November 28 he pleaded not guilty to all charges of murder and terrorism.

ISIL influence

Early reports suggested Saipov was “self-radicalized”. John Miller, the deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department, said Saipov did it in the name of ISIL, a jihadist militant group fighting in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars, and appeared to have followed “almost exactly to a T” the group’s advice on social media on how to carry out vehicular attacks. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration considers him an “enemy combatant”.

The ISIS flag, the black standard
The ISIS flag, the black standard

While in custody, Saipov waived his Miranda rights and told police he deliberately chose Halloween to commit the attack and had made a test drive near the route, renting a truck on October 22 for that purpose. According to a criminal complaint, he thought there would be more civilians on the street then. Authorities added he had been planning the attack for about a year. He said he was particularly motivated after watching a video of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi questioning the American Muslim response to Muslims killed in Iraq. Investigators found other ISIL images and videos on his electronic devices. He requested to display the ISIL flag in his hospital room and, according to the complaint, “stated that he felt good about what he had done”.

Aftermath

Stuyvesant High School, PS 89 Liberty School, and IS 289 Hudson River Middle School were placed in lockdown after reports that shots were heard nearby, for up to three hours following the incident. Several nearby streets were closed to the public, including West, Chambers and Murray Streets, to conduct an investigation, causing traffic jams throughout lower Manhattan. Vehicle and pedestrian activity resumed when the truck was towed the day after the attack.

President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to “step up” its “Extreme Vetting Program”. On Twitter, he called for Saipov to be executed, and initially stated that he wanted Saipov to be detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. This prompted pleas from Saipov’s sister to not execute him immediately and to give him “time” and a “fair trial”. Trump later retracted the latter statement and said Saipov would be tried in New York criminal court instead. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack a “particularly cowardly act of terror”. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy. We are proud of it, that also makes us a target.” He also directed One World Trade Center’s spire to be lit up in red, white, and blue, the colors of the American flag, to memorialize the victims of the attacks.

This was the second terrorist attack committed by a winner of the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery, following the 2002 Los Angeles International Airport shooting committed by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian. Trump called for the termination of the Diversity Immigrant Visa lottery program. He then ordered the Department of Homeland Security to “step up” the DHS’s already extreme vetting policy. He cast blame on Chuck Schumer, a Democratic Party senator representing New York, sarcastically calling the lottery scheme “a Chuck Schumer beauty”. The program was part of an immigration bill that passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support, followed by Republican President George H. W. Bush signing the bill into law in 1990. Schumer introduced a House Bill that helped to create the program. Schumer responded to Trump’s attack, saying, “I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy.” He also accused Trump of dividing the country and of wanting to cut anti-terrorism funding in budget proposals. Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona defended Schumer, saying the proposals of the bipartisan Gang of Eight, including him and Schumer, would have eliminated the Diversity Visa Lottery.

After the attack, several media sources wrote about how easy it was to drive down Hudson River Park’s bike lane, either by accident or on purpose. Transportation Alternatives had pushed for safety bollards ever since two vehicular incidents resulting in fatalities had occurred on the bike path in 2006, but the city ignored safety concerns and made only aesthetic fixes to the path. City and state officials also started working on a way to improve the bike lane’s safety measures, and two days after the attack, the city started placing temporary concrete barriers on the path. The temporary barriers were installed by November 3.

ISIL accepted responsibility for the attack in issue #104 of its newsletter, al-Naba, and called Saipov a “soldier of the Caliphate” who responded to its call to attack “citizens of the Crusader countries involved in the alliance against the Islamic State.”

Less than four hours after the incident, the massive New York’s Village Halloween Parade, which started six blocks east of the incident at Sixth Avenue, proceeded just as scheduled. Both Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo marched in the parade.

On November 6, Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his wife Juliana Awada placed flowers at the attack site and met with Argentine survivors of the attack.

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