NYC terror suspect ‘not happy with his life’

Matt Sedensky and Dake Kang
Associated Press

New York

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 immigrant accused of driving a truck onto a New York bike path and killing eight people. A fuller portrait began to emerge of the suspect who was described by the president as an animal and by the mayor as a coward.

Federal prosecutors brought terrorism charges Wednesday against the Uzbek native, saying he carried out the attack in response to the Islamic State group’s online calls to action and picked Halloween because he knew more people would be out on the streets.

Saipov was brought to court in a wheelchair to face the charges, which could bring the death penalty.

John Miller, deputy New York police commissioner for intelligence, said Saipov “appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions that ISIS has put out.”

In the past few years, the Islamic State, or ISIS, has exhorted followers online to use vehicles, knives or other close-at-hand means of killing people in their home countries. England, France and Germany have all seen deadly vehicle attacks since mid-2016.

His court-appointed lawyer, David Patton, called for fair treatment of his client.

“I hope, given all of the attention in this case and all of the attention that it’s sure to continue to receive, that everyone lets the judicial process play out,” he said. “I promise you that how we treat Mr. Saipov in this judicial process will say a lot more about us than it will say about him.”

Notes found at the crime scene indicate Saipov acted in the name of IS, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Saipov had 90 videos and 3,800 photos on one of his two cellphones, many of them IS-related pieces of propaganda, including images of prisoners being beheaded, shot or run over by a tank.

Meanwhile, the FBI said it wanted to question a second person from Uzbekistan — 32-year-old Mukhammadzoir Kadirov — and had found him. A law enforcement official said Kadirov may not have a role in the case, but investigators became suspicious when they couldn’t find him as he was one of Saipov’s few friends. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

Saipov legally emigrated from Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic and predominantly Sunni Muslim nation north of Afghanistan that is estimated to have produced hundreds if not thousands of supporters for the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

After arriving in the U.S. in 2010, Saipov made his first home in Ohio, acquaintances said.

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 works as a truck driver, just as Saipov once did.

Muminov described Saipov as “aggressive” and suspected he held radical views, though Muminov never heard him speak of IS.

“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 a time in Kyrgyzstan, another former 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. Jail records indicate he was detained for less than an hour.

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

On Wednesday, FBI agents removed evidence bags from an apartment building in Paterson, about 20 miles northwest of New York City.

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 saw a little girl walking down the street, she asked the child who her mother was.

She pointed in the direction of Saipov’s home, Rivera said.

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

Birth records in Ohio show that Saipov and his wife had two daughters, ages 2 and 4. A neighbor in New Jersey said they had a third child, a boy, earlier this year.

Another neighbor of Saipov, who is Rivera’s son, 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. He also recalled 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 Saipov to drive for Uber, which confirmed he had passed a background check and driven for six months, making more than 1,400 trips.

Authorities said Saipov never was the subject of an investigation by the New York Police Department’s intelligence bureau or the FBI, but they were looking at how he might be connected to the subjects of other investigations. Saipov had been planning his attack for weeks, police said.

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, where he was recovering from being shot by the police officer who stopped the attack.

Late in the afternoon, he was taken to a federal court hearing after a terrorism charge and other counts were filed against him by prosecutors, who said he was “consumed by hate and a twisted ideology.” Saipov appeared in a wheelchair, with his hands and feet shackled.

As he lay in bed at the hospital, authorities said, he asked about displaying a flag for the Islamic State group in his room. He said, according to court documents, that he felt good about what he had done.