NEW YORK – As 29-year-old immigrant Sayfullo Saipov lay in a hospital bed Wednesday, accused of driving a truck onto a New York bike path and killing eight people, police tried to piece together his life. A fuller portrait is beginning to emerge of the suspect who has been described by the president as an animal, and by the mayor as a coward.
Regarded by some as disagreeable and argumentative, others saw him as quiet and devout. He was said to be hardworking, but also seemed to simmer with disillusionment over financial and career setbacks.
Saipov legally emigrated to the U.S. in 2010, from Uzbekistan. After arriving in the U.S., he made his first home in Ohio, acquaintances said. A marriage license filed in Summit County, Ohio, shows Saipov married a woman named Nozima Odilova on April 12, 2013.
Birth records in Ohio show that Saipov and his wife had two daughters, now aged 2 and 4, before the couple relocated to Florida. Saipov had a driver’s license from that state and some records showed an address for him at a Tampa apartment complex, but according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity the family had moved from Florida to New Jersey in June.
On Tuesday, FBI agents interviewed Saipov’s former neighbors at an apartment building in Paterson, just northwest of New York City. But some who lived there said they knew nothing about him. 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.
23-year-old Carlos Batista, who lives down the street, 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 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.”
Maria Rivera — another neighbor of Saipov, and Batista’s mother — 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 had 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.
A neighbor in New Jersey said they had a third child, a boy, earlier this year.
But 38-year-old Mirrakhmat Muminov from Stow, Ohio, a fellow Uzbek immigrant who came to know Saipov, said he was struck by how provocative he was.
Saipov would sometimes stir quarrels over weighty topics such as politics or the Mideast peace process, Muminov said, but could also grow angry over something as simple as a picnic.
“He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody,” said Muminov, 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 the Islamic State group.
“He was not happy with his life,” Muminov said.
According to Muminov, 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 around the same time.
“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.
Saipov 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.
Authorities have said he never was the subject of 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.
According to police, Saipov had been planning his attack for a year.
Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic and predominantly Sunni Muslim nation north of Afghanistan, 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.
According to some media reports, Saipov had also 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 he 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.
Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest in America’s financial capital since the al-Qaida hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001. Of 12 wounded, four remain in critical condition.
Five of the victims were childhood friends from Argentina celebrating 30 years since their high school graduation. The others were a 31-year-old Belgian mother and two men from New York and neighboring New Jersey.
After plowing through a bike path and into a school bus, Saipov emerged from the vehicle, authorities said, brandishing air guns and yelling “God is great!” in Arabic.
President Donald Trump has vowed an immediate crackdown on the visa program that he said allowed Saipov to immigrate in 2010, and said he would “certainly consider” sending the suspect to the military detention center in Guantanamo Bay.
On Wednesday afternoon, Saipov appeared at a federal court hearing in a wheelchair, with his hands and feet shackled.
Since Tuesday, he had been recovering at Bellevue Hospital after being shot by a police officer who intervened in the attack. According to a charging document, “Saipov requested to display ISIS’s flag in his hospital room and stated that he felt good about what he had done.”
A terrorism charge and other counts have been filed against him by prosecutors, who say he was “consumed by hate and a twisted ideology.”
The complaint listed two counts: violence and destruction of motor vehicles, and provision of material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization — a charge said to carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Federal prosecutors could also potentially seek the death penalty. It was not immediately clear if he would face further charges.
Authorities say Saipov was in possession of multiple knives in a black bag, a Florida driving license and two cell phones that contained thousands of IS propaganda images and dozens of IS propaganda videos.
The files were said to depict “among other things, ISIS fighters killing prisoners by running over them with a tank, beheading them, and shooting them in the face.”
Saipov didn’t enter a plea or seek bail.