Acquaintances: NYC suspect was argumentative and angry

Matt Sedensky and Michael R. Sisak
Associated Press

New York — Some saw him as disagreeable and argumentative, others as quiet and prayerful. He was said to be hard-working but also seemed to simmer with disillusionment over financial and career setbacks.

As Sayfullo Saipov lay in a hospital bed Wednesday, police tried to piece together the life of the 29-year-old man they say drove a truck unto a New York bike path, killing eight people. A portrait began to emerge of the suspect who was described by the president as an animal and by the mayor as a coward.

Saipov legally immigrated to the U.S. from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2010, and acquaintances said he made his first home in Ohio.

Two other Uzbek immigrants, Akhmadjon Kholberdiyev and Mirrakhmat Muminov, came to know Saipov and said they were most struck by how provocative he was.

Sometimes, he would stir quarrels over weighty topics such as politics or the Mideast peace process, they said, but he could also grow angry over something as simple as a picnic.

“He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody,” said Muminov, a 38-year-old from Stow, Ohio, who just as Saipov once did, works as a truck driver.

Muminov said Saipov was “aggressive” and suspected he held radical views, though Muminov never heard him speak of the Islamic State group.

“He was not happy with his life,” Muminov said.

Kholberdiyev, a groundskeeper at a local mosque, called Saipov quiet and said he came to the mosque to pray every two or three weeks.

According to some media reports, Saipov lived for some time in Kyrgyzstan, another ex-Soviet nation that borders Uzbekistan and has a sizable ethnic Uzbek minority.

In June of 2010, the same year Saipov came to the U.S., the area near the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan where he reportedly lived saw violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that left at least 470 people dead. Nearly three-quarters of them were ethnic Uzbeks. The violence prompted an exodus of Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan.

A marriage license filed in Summit County, Ohio, shows Saipov married a woman named Nozima Odilova on April 12, 2013. But the couple eventually left Ohio for Florida. Saipov had a driver’s license from that state, and some records showed an address for him at a Tampa apartment complex.

FBI agents interviewed residents at the complex Tuesday, but some who lived there said they knew nothing of their former neighbor. Records show he worked as a commercial truck driver and formed a pair of trucking businesses that could have kept him on the road for long stretches.

He had a handful of driving violations and was arrested last year in Missouri after failing to appear in court on a citation for brake defects. It’s not clear how long he was jailed.

Saipov and his family moved from Florida to New Jersey in June, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A trucking industry website listed Saipov at a Paterson address that authorities searched Tuesday night.

Maria Rivera, who lives down the street, said she sometimes saw Saipov talking on his phone or with two or three other men in the neighborhood. A month ago, when she said she saw a little girl walking down the street, she asked the child who her mother was.

She pointed to Saipov and his wife, Rivera said.

“He came out, grabbed the baby and he didn’t say nothing to me,” she said.

Altana Dimitrovska, who lives nearby, said Saipov and his wife had two daughters and a son.

Another neighbor in Paterson, 23-year-old Carlos Batista, said he saw Saipov and two friends come and go several times in the past three weeks in the same model Home Depot pickup used in the attack. But he also recalls a recent incident in which Saipov played the role of peacemaker.

Two of Saipov’s friends were angry Batista was riding a dirt bike up and down the street and ordered him to stop. Tempers flared and words escalated until Saipov came outside.

He “basically was the peacemaker,” Batista said. “He calmed everything down.”

Muminov said he last heard from Saipov a few months ago when he called asking for advice on insurance. He said he heard from friends of Saipov that his truck engine blew a few months ago.

“He lost his job,” Muminov said. “When someone loses their truck, they lose their life.”

That may have led to Saipov beginning to drive for Uber, which confirmed he had passed a background check and driven for six months, making more than 1,400 trips.

How Saipov went in seven years from an eager new immigrant to a man now labeled a terrorist remains a focus of investigators.

Police say Saipov had been planning the attack for weeks. After plowing through the bike path and into a school bus, authorities said, he emerged from the vehicle, brandishing air guns and yelling “God is great!” in Arabic.

He remained at Bellevue Hospital on Wednesday, recovering from the gunshot wound inflicted by a police officer who tried to stop the attack. Notes found at the crime scene indicate Saipov acted in the name of the Islamic State group, police said.