NEW YORK/MOSCOW – An Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in New York City by driving a rental truck down a riverfront bike path Tuesday appeared to have acted alone, but the Halloween Day attack had all the hallmarks of terrorism, authorities said.
The suspect, who was shot by police and arrested moments after Tuesday’s rampage on the Lower West Side of Manhattan, left a note saying he carried out the attack in the name of the militant Islamic State group, The New York Times and CNN said.
The death toll paled in comparison to dozens killed in similar assaults last year in France and Germany. However, it was still the bloodiest single attack on New Yorkers since Sept. 11, 2001, when suicide hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,600 people.
The Twin Towers site was just a few blocks from the scene of the carnage left when the suspect swerved the pickup onto a path filled with pedestrians and bicyclists on a sunny, crisp autumn afternoon.
Driving at speeds estimated at more than 100 kph (60 mph), the vehicle mowed down everyone in its path before slamming into the side of a school bus.
The man then climbed out of the vehicle brandishing what appeared to be a pair of handguns before he was confronted by a city police officer, who shot him in the abdomen. Police said they recovered a paintball gun and a pellet gun from the scene.
The attack was over in a matter of seconds. Video footage taken by a bystander that circulated online showed crumpled bicycles scattered long the path, and at least two people lying on the ground.
In addition to the eight fatalities, at least 11 people were hospitalized for injuries described by fire officials as serious but not life-threatening. That excluded the suspect, who underwent surgery for gunshot wounds.
Police declined to identify the man, but a source familiar with the investigation said he is Sayfullo Saipov, 29. He reportedly lived in Paterson, New Jersey, a onetime industrial hub 40 km (25 miles) northwest of lower Manhattan.
He reportedly had rented the pick-up from a Home Depot hardware store in Passaic, just south of Paterson.
Six victims were pronounced dead at the scene and two more at a nearby hospital, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.
Five of the dead were Argentines, visiting New York as part of a group of friends celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, the Argentina Foreign Ministry said. Belgium’s foreign minister said a Belgian was also among those killed.
A U.S. law enforcement official described the suspect as a U.S. immigrant born in Uzbekistan, a landlocked, poor and predominantly Muslim country in Central Asia that was once part of the Soviet Union. CNN and NBC News reported that he entered the United States in 2010.
Uzbekistan has become a source of recruits for the Islamic State and other militant jihadi groups, along with other Central Asian countries.
The International Crisis Group estimated this year that between 2,000 and 4,000 militants from Central Asia may have signed up under the banner of IS.
The country’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, offered condolences to U.S. President Donald Trump in a statement on the Foreign Ministry’s website Wednesday, adding that the country would help U.S. authorities in the investigation.
“Uzbekistan is ready to use all forces and resources to help in the investigation of this act of terror,” Mirziyoyev said.
Authorities late Tuesday surrounded a house in Paterson where, according to The New York Times, Saipov was believed to have lived. Paterson, known for its large immigrant population, is home to 150,000 people, including 25,000 to 30,000 Muslims.
ABC News reported that Saipov had lived in Tampa, Florida. A check of court records related to a traffic citation that Saipov received in eastern Pennsylvania in 2015 showed he listed addresses in Paterson and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Although authorities from the mayor’s office to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security all swiftly branded the attack an act of terrorism, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stressed that the suspect was believed to have acted alone. “These are the actions of one individual meant to cause pain and harm and probably death,” Cuomo told a news conference.
The New York Times said investigators quickly recognized that Saipov had come to the attention of law enforcement in the past.
It cited three officials as saying federal authorities knew of Saipov from an unrelated probe, although it was unclear whether that was because he had ties to someone who was under scrutiny or because he was the target of an investigation.
CNN and other media outlets, citing police officials, reported that the suspect shouted “Allahu akbar” — Arabic for “God is greatest” — when he jumped out of his truck.
Despite the attack, thousands of costumed Halloween revelers turned out hours later for New York City’s main Halloween parade, which went on as scheduled Tuesday night with a heightened police presence just a few blocks away.