NEW YORK — Investigators probing the background of the 29-year-old man they say mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a Manhattan bike path believe he was a lone wolf who became “radicalized domestically” after coming to the United States, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Wednesday.
Cuomo said the attacker was influenced by the Islamic State and its violent tactics after arriving in this country from Uzbekistan. Officials say the suspected attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, left a note declaring his allegiance to the group, but authorities have not found any connections between him and the Islamic State or any other organization.
“The evidence shows . . . that after he came to the United States, is when he started to become informed about ISIS and radical Islamic tactics,” Cuomo said during an appearance on CNN’s “New Day”, using one of the acronyms for the group. “We have no evidence yet of associations or continuing plot or associated plots, and our only evidence to date is that this was an isolated incident that he himself performed.”
Saipov arrived in the United States at least six years ago and moved from New Jersey to Ohio and Florida, according to authorities. Officials say Saipov climbed into a rental truck and careened down a path along Hudson River on Tuesday afternoon, slamming into numerous people before he was wounded by police and taken into custody.
At least eight people were killed — among them, five Argentines and a Belgian — in what became New York’s deadliest terrorist attack since Sept. 11, 2001. Eleven more people were injured along a path of carnage in Lower Manhattan, a route that was strewn with bodies, wreckage and scattered personal items such as purses, backpacks and shoes. It looked similar to the scenes after attacks in Berlin, London, Barcelona and other places scarred by violence after vehicles were used as weapons.
In the aftermath of the attack, throngs of New Yorkers went out to celebrate Halloween, with many attending the city’s annual parade.
“You know New Yorkers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said Wednesday morning on CNN’s “New Day.” “The attitude is one of strength, perseverance. People are not going to have their lives changed by someone who’s trying to undermine our society.”
According to a video from the scene, the attacker jumped out of the wrecked vehicle brandishing what appeared to be handguns. Some witnesses said he shouted “Allahu akbar,’’ meaning “God is great’’ in Arabic.
Investigators also found a handwritten note inside the rental truck in which Saipov had declared his allegiance to the Islamic State, according to officials.
The Islamic State, which has called for supporters to use vehicles as weapons, did not immediately claim responsibility for the New York attack, though its supporters cheered what happened, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity. The militant group frequently asserts responsibility for attacks, doing so in some cases where there is little clear indication of its involvement.
A key difference between this attack and others that have occurred: Authorities took Saipov alive, meaning investigators could gain firsthand information from him rather than relying solely on the trail he left behind. Among the chief questions for investigators is whether he acted alone or had possible connections to wider militant cells.
U.S. law enforcement officials identified Saipov as an immigrant from Uzbekistan, but officials in the country said they were trying to confirm details on the suspect, including his background. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, promised to use all resources to help in the probe.
Shortly after the attack, President Trump made a reference to the Islamic State in a Twitter post, saying: “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” But it remained unclear whether Saipov had possible deeper connections to the group.
The attack could intensify the political debate over immigration and security. Trump tweeted several times about the vehicle attack on Tuesday and Wednesday, writing at one point he had urged the Department of Homeland Security to “step up” its vetting program for foreign nationals, though he did not elaborate on what that meant.
Trump on Wednesday also shifted his focus to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), tweeting that Saipov had entered the country through a visa program he blamed on the senator.
De Blasio, speaking not long after Trump began tweeting on Wednesday morning, urged him and others not to bring politics into the attack’s aftermath.
“The last thing the president or anyone else should do is politicize this tragedy,” de Blasio said on CNN. “We have to find out what happened here. That work’s going to be done by the FBI, by the NYPD and all of our partners to determine exactly who this man is, what moved him to this horrible act, what’s going on, is there any bigger ramification? That’s what we should be focused on.”
Trump has argued for much tougher screening of immigrants to prevent terrorism, and opponents of those policies have sought to block his efforts in the courts. Uzbekistan was not among the countries named in any version of the president’s travel ban, which largely targeted a number of majority-Muslim countries.
As the sun rose over New York on Wednesday, the bike path remained blocked off by police tape between Houston and Chambers streets. Dozens of police officers guarded the perimeter while crime scene investigators wearing white suits slowly searched the length of the path. Police closed streets Wednesday around the area near the West Side Highway.
Saipov had been living in Paterson, N.J., before the attack, and rented the vehicle in that state before driving it into Manhattan, officials said.
The violence was similar to vehicle attacks carried out in Europe, where Islamic State supporters have used cars and trucks to strike pedestrians in crowded streets, a tactic that has been employed in France, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Spain.
“This certainly bears all the hallmarks of an ISIS-inspired or al-Qaeda-inspired attack,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, whom the FBI briefed on the attack Tuesday evening. But, he added, “we don’t know whether this was an ISIS-directed attack or merely someone acting out of radical inspiration.”
An officer from the 1st Precinct approached Saipov and shot him in the abdomen after the attacker crashed the rented Home Depot flatbed truck into a school bus, police said. The weapons he was brandishing turned out to be a pellet gun and a paintball gun, police said.
De Blasio, speaking on Tuesday, said that the attack “was an act of terror, a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians.”
Saipov moved to the United States from Uzbekistan about six years ago, said Dilnoza Abdusamatova, 24. She said Saipov stayed with her family in Cincinnati for his first two weeks in the country because their fathers were friends. Some officials said he arrived in 2010.
Abdusamatova said Saipov then moved to Florida to start a trucking company. Her family members think he got married about a year after arriving in the United States and may now have two children. Around that time, she said, he cut off contact with them. “He stopped talking to us when he got married,” Abdusamatova said.
Saipov had lived in an apartment complex, Heritage at Tampa, near the Hillsborough River. On Tuesday evening, two plainclothes investigators were seen departing the community, having interviewed several residents and others in the surrounding neighborhood. The investigators declined to answer any questions.
Police in Tampa said they had no records of any interactions with Saipov.
Uber said Saipov had been a driver from the service, though he was banned from the app in the wake of the attack. He passed the Uber background check, according to the company. Uber is reviewing Saipov’s history as a driver, and so far it has not identified any worrisome safety reports, company officials said.
At the bike path in New york, two men holding coffee cups approached the line police tape early Wednesday.
“I don’t see what happened,” one said.
“You don’t know what happened? Yesterday. Someone drive a truck into people,” the other said
“Did people die?”
“Yeah,” said the man. “People died.”