New York Hit by Deadliest Terrorist Attack Since 9/11; Neighbors Say Suspect Was Reserved and Religious

Sayfullo Saipov allegedly killed eight people when he drove his truck onto a Manhattan bike path before yelling ‘Allah Akbar.’ Neighbors say he was devout, but didn't expect this.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

At least eight people are dead after a man in a pickup truck plowed through a bike path in New York on Tuesday afternoon in what Mayor Bill de Blasio called an “act of terror.”

The attack is the deadliest in the city since September 11, 2001.

The alleged perpetrator is Sayfullo Saipov, 29, of Tampa, Florida, a law enforcement official told The Daily Beast. Saipov reportedly immigrated to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010.

A law enforcement official told The Daily Beast a witness saw Saipov exit the truck and shout “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” in Arabic. Law enforcement recovered a note near the truck “that indicated allegiance to ISIS,” the New York Times reported. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “there is no evidence to suggest a wider plot or a wider scheme.”

The attack began at approximately 3 p.m. local time when Saipov allegedly drove a truck rented from a Home Depot store in New Jersey onto a bike bath along Manhattan's West Side Highway for several blocks, hitting at least a dozen people.

Saipov crashed into a school bus, then exited the truck carrying what police describe as two imitation firearms, police said. Police shot Saipov in the abdomen and took him into custody.

Two witnesses who saw the truck minutes after the attack told The Daily Beast that a pink sweater appeared to be tied to the steering wheel, as if in an attempt to stabilize it.

Saipov was a truck driver by trade with a commercial drivers’ license from Florida where he recently lived.

Neighbors in Tampa, Florida say Saipov lived with a young family in a modest apartment complex. Melissa Matthews and Kyong Eagan said he lived there with a woman and two or three children, as well as an older woman took to be Saipov’s or the woman’s mother. The family told Eagan they used to live in New York and Ohio before moving to Florida.

Eagan said Saipov was a truck driver and would be gone for a week or two at a time because of his job.

“He talked very soft,” Eagan said. "I had a hard time believing he was a truck driver, because the typical truck driver has a loud voice and likes to swear."

Saipov used to bring Eagan home-cooked meals, including lamb, telling Eagan he wanted to share his country’s food with her. He would also carry over cases of water and juice, she said.

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“He always brings food. I offer him money but he says he doesn’t want it,” Eagan said.

“I just can’t believe it at all. He was just so genuine. I’m just so shocked.”

Eagan and Matthews both said they saw the women wearing head coverings. Eagan said the family had a group of people, young and old, over every Saturday. Matthews said the women were private almost to the point of being cold.

“Most people you say hello to and they say hello back, but they didn't,” Matthews said.

Both neighbors said the family moved out over the summer. Eagan said Saipov told her they were moving to New Jersey because Saipov's job got transferred. Before they moved, Saipov gave Eagan household appliances including a stereo, a vacuum cleaner, and a printer.  

He always treated me like I was his mother.
Neighbor, on the suspect

“He always treated me like I was his mother,” Eagan said. “He was kind of a nice neighbor. A real nice neighbor to have."

On Tuesday, Saipov's quiet Paterson, New Jersey neighborhood was cut off by police tape in a two block diameter. Patrol cars stood near his house and a nearby mosque. Neighbors told The Daily Beast they were surprised by the police activity.

"It's a pretty quiet neighborhood, you wouldn't expect that here," Jose Gonzalez, 19, told The Daily Beast. He said the neighborhood was ethnically diverse, with a large Arab population, and that the streets filled up with mosquegoers on Fridays.

Police and FBI agents reviewed surveillance footage from a store across the street from the Saipov's house late on Tuesday. A store owner told The Daily Beast he'd seen Saipov with two women, both wearing niqabs.

In New York, the Uzbekistani expatriate community was quick to condemn Saipov’s attack.

“This is crazy. I don’t know how we get rid of these people [terrorists],” Farhod Sulton, president of the Vatandosh Uzbek-American Federation, told The Daily Beast. “We as a community become victims of this too.”

In 2015, three men living in Brooklyn, and originally from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, were charged with planning to go and fight for ISIS.

“When this happened before it increased hostility to other people from Uzbekistan living here,” said Sulton. “All of a sudden, people link you to them: ‘Oh those people. We know you.’ And this affects everything: your job, school, your social life. We hate what these people do.”

Sulton said that after the previous high-profile incident, community leaders tried to reach out to young people, but Sulton said those involved in terrorist activity previously tended to have few links to the community, did not attend mosque, and were radicalized by the internet.

Sulton feared the New York attacker’s Uzbek background would have a negative effect on other Uzbeks seeking to come to the U.S.

“We are already afraid to leave the country in case we are not allowed back in,” Sulton said. “I just hope people do not connect all Uzbek people with this individual.”

Before the night was over, President Donald Trump raised the specter of keeping people out of the U.S.

“I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” he tweeted. “Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”

— Reporting by Lynn Waddell in Tampa, Florida; Katie Zavadski, Alex Brook Lynn, Kate Briquelet, and Tim Teeman in New York; and Jana Winter.