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8 dead in Manhattan attack, Trump steps up ‘extreme vetting’ of foreign travellers

Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek migrant based in Florida, was shot in the abdomen by a police officer after he got out of his vehicle that collided with a school bus.

world Updated: Nov 01, 2017 22:38 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington

An Uzbek man, apparently inspired by the Islamic State, ploughed a pickup truck through a bicycle path in Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring at least a dozen in the deadliest terror attack in New York City since 9/11.

Sayfullo Saipov, 29, was heard shouting “Allah-u-Akbar” during the rampage on Tuesday afternoon, witnesses said. He was shot in the abdomen by a police officer when he emerged from the truck after it collided with a school bus at 3.05 pm (1905 GMT), blocks away from the 9/11 Memorial.

He was walking in the middle of the street brandishing two weapons, which turned out to be paintball and pellet guns. Saipov was in police custody and being treated at a hospital.

“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,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, based on a preliminary investigations, this was a lone wolf attack carried out by the suspect acting alone. This was “one individual who meant to cause pain and harm and probably death and the resulting terror. That was the purpose.”

President Donald Trump tweeted about what was the first terror attack on the American mainland in his term, and in his hometown: “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!”

Trump also said he had directed his administration to “step up” extreme vetting of foreign visitors.

Authorities did not disclose the attacker’s identity but news reports said Saipov came to the US in 2010 and had a green card. He lived in Florida and New Jersey, with his wife, whom he married in 2013.

He worked as an Uber driver and the ride-hailing company said he had passed its background check. He drove to New York City from New Jersey on Tuesday.

Saipov reportedly pledged loyalty to the IS in handwritten notes in Arabic found near the truck, the US media cited law enforcement officials as saying. It was not clear where he was radicalised, and investigators did not discover evidence showing direct ties between Saipov and the IS.

New York police said he planned the attack for a “number of weeks” and seemed to have followed instructions from the IS on social media on how to carry out such an attack.

This was also the first instance of a terror attack in New York City involving fatalities after the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed 2,606 people, including 34 from India. There were at least two attempts since then – the Times Square car bomb in 2010 and the Chelsea bombings in 2016 that left 29 people injured.

It was also the first instance of a vehicle being used as a terror weapon in the US, as in Berlin and Nice in 2016 and in Barcelona last August. A white supremacist had driven through protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, recently killing a woman but authorities had not described it as an act of terrorism.

Saipov used a rental pickup truck from Home Depot, a countrywide retail chain for home furnishings. He drove the truck down the bike path used by cyclists, joggers and walkers for about a mile, before it crashed into the school bus, injuring two adults and two children inside, close to a community college and a high school.

Videos made by passersby show Saipov running around – “randomly,” as one witness described it – after abandoning the vehicle, with police officers in pursuit.

Six people died at the site and two were declared dead on arrival at the hospital, police commissioner James P O’Neill said. Eleven people were seriously injured, he added, but none with life-threatening conditions. Five of the dead were a group of friends visiting from Argentina, and one was from Belgium.

Security was stepped up all over New York for Halloween celebrations and a traditional parade later in the evening, and authorities urged residents to go about their business and the celebrations undaunted by the security presence, which they said was only a cautionary measure.

“We know that this action was intended to break our spirit but we also know New Yorkers are strong, New Yorkers are resilient and our spirit will never be moved by an act of violence, an act meant to intimidate us,” mayor de Blasio said.

First Published: Nov 01, 2017 15:24 IST