8 killed after driver plows through cyclists and pedestrians near World Trade Center
A man driving a rental truck rammed through a bike path on Tuesday, October 31, killing eight people and injuring more than a dozen in the deadliest attack in the city since 9/11.
At about 3:05 p.m., the suspect sped in a Home Depot flatbed pickup truck for nearly a mile down a popular bike path on West Houston Street in lower Manhattan just blocks away from the World Trade Center.
“The Home Depot truck starting running people over,” said witness Nelson Arroyo, 58, according to various reports. “I heard a boom boom, a crushing noise from the bikes. People were sitting down crying. I saw two areas of blood.”
The truck then rammed into a school bus on Chambers Street, injuring two adults and two children inside. He then exited the truck, wielding pellet and paintball guns as panicked bystanders began fleeing the scene.
The suspect began shouting, “Allahu Akhbar (God is great)” as a uniformed police officer chased him down and fired at least five shots at the suspect. The suspect fell to the ground, but did not die. The attack resulted in six people dying immediately on the scene and two dying later in hospitals.
Victims that have been identified include six Argentinian high school students, two young American men and a Belgian mother, according to the NYPD. Several knives were found in and around the truck used in the attack.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio immediately classified the attack as an “act of terror” in a press conference held later that day.
“This was a cowardly act of terror. It was intended to break our spirit. But New Yorkers are resilient. We will be undeterred,” de Blasio tweeted on Tuesday.
Ties to the Islamic State
The suspect has been identified as 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, a native of Uzbekistan who came to the U.S. in 2010 through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a program that distributes nearly 50,000 visas to countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Wednesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, the federal government has filed terrorism charges against Saipov. Specifically, he is being charged for providing material support to the Islamic State (IS), violence and destruction of motor vehicles.
Investigators spoke with Saipov from his hospital bed, where he was getting treated for a gunshot wound, and confirmed that he was inspired by truck attacks from IS videos. He said he rented a truck on October 22 to “practice making turns” and specifically chose Halloween for the attack “because he believed there would be more civilians on the street for the holiday.”
He told investigators that “he felt good about what he had done” and even asked permission to hang the IS flag in his hospital room, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday.
John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said that Saipov, a resident of New Jersey, had been planning the attack for weeks and “did this in the name of ISIS,” as evident from a note written in Arabic found near the scene.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday morning that Saipov had been “radicalized domestically,” and that “the evidence shows — and again, it’s only several hours, and the investigation is ongoing — but that after he came to the United States is when he started to become informed about ISIS and radical Islamic tactics.”
Immediate response and aftermath
As Americans attempt to grapple with yet another terrorist attack, the White House has announced several initiatives to prevent another attack.
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the United States must “come up with punishment that is far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now.”
He added: “We need quick justice and we need strong justice – much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughing stock.”
During a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the president announced plans to bring a proposal to Congress asking to eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery, which was signed into law in 1990 to promote immigration from countries which have little representation in the U.S.
“I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program, diversity lottery, diversity lottery,” Trump said at the meeting. “Sounds nice, it is not nice, it is not good. It hasn’t been good and we have been against it.”
Trump has also announced that he’s considering sending Saipov to the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, a move that many critics disagree with.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was quick to condemn the president’s “rushed” response to send the suspect to the controversial Guantanamo Bay as well as his “reactionary” proposal to impose major changes to the country’s immigration standards.
“Sending Saipov to Guantanamo or treating him as an ‘enemy combatant’ would violate due process and the rule of law,” Anthony D Romero, executor director of the ACLU, said in a statement on Wednesday. “It’s a shame that Trump is using this attack as a platform for pushing his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda.”
Wade McMullen, an attorney at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center, said that “it’s not even worth reacting to whether the president’s suggestion of sending this suspect to [Guantanamo] is legal or even effective – it’s clearly neither.”
McMullen cited the president’s universally panned response to the attack at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August which resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. He criticized the president’s hurried response to the New York attack in comparison to his lukewarm response to the Charlottesville attack.
“What we should be asking is why is this president is quick to use such radical, extreme language in the wake of the tragedy in New York, but after the terror attack in Charlottesville, could only muster something about how ‘there were very fine people on both sides’,” McMullen said. “Racism and Islamophobia will never result in sound, legal or effective counterterrorism policy.”
On Thursday, the president acknowledged that sending Saipov to Guantanamo Bay would be a process that “takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” he said on Twitter.
He offered an alternative option in sending the suspect to death row, tweeting, “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”
While many are criticizing the president’s quick response to propose the death penalty, U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York Joon Kim said that the government has full authority to carry out the death penalty if it chooses to seek it, given the charges Saipov faces.
However, the president’s tweet calling for the death penalty before Saipov even had the chance to enter a plea for the charges he faces could be an advantage for the defense lawyers, who may see the president’s proposal as “unfair” and could affect potential jurors in the case.
When asked by reporters whether he thought the suspect deserved a death sentence, Mayor de Blasio said, no matter what, he opposes the death penalty.
“I’m not someone who believes in the death penalty in general, I just don’t,” the NY mayor said in a news conference on Thursday near the site of the attack. “I believe this is an individual who should rot in prison for the rest of his life.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)