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New York terror suspect planned attack for weeks, police say

By Nicole Chavez, Holly Yan and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) -- All it took was a man and a truck to inflict the deadliest terror attack on New York City since 9/11.

The attacker plowed into bicyclists and pedestrians just blocks away from the World Trade Center Tuesday afternoon, authorities said. Mangled bicycles littered the street as medics rushed to the victims.

Six victims were killed instantly. Two others died later. And more than a dozen are trying to recover as the country grapples with yet another terror attack.

The suspect was identified as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, 29, a Uzbekistan native who came to the US legally in 2010, authorities said. Saipov allegedly drove a rented pickup truck onto the busy bike path, later crashed it into a school bus and then stepped outside of the vehicle brandishing imitation firearms.

A police officer shot Saipov in the abdomen, stopping the threat. He survived and underwent surgery Tuesday evening.

The suspect had been planning the attack for a number of weeks and "did this in the name of ISIS," according to John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism.

Miller added that a handwritten note in Arabic found near the scene had both symbols and words, but the general message of it was that the Islamic State would endure forever.

Saipov was "radicalized domestically" in the US, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday morning.

"The evidence shows -- and again, it's only several hours, and the investigation is ongoing -- but that after he came to the United States is when he started to become informed about ISIS and radical Islamic tactics," Cuomo said.

Here are the latest developments in the attack:

  • Six Argentinian high school classmates, two young American men, and a Belgian mother were identified as the victims, the New York Police Department said.
  • The suspect arrived in the US as part of the diversity immigrant visa program, the Department of Homeland Security said.
  • Multiple knives were recovered in and around the suspect's rented truck after he was shot by police, Miller said.
  • The NYPD officer who shot the suspect was a 28-year-old with five years experience on the job, New York officials said.

The suspect

Saipov came to the US from the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan in 2010 on a diversity immigrant visa, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program awards up to 50,000 individuals per year a visa for a green card, which bestows permanent residency and is a path to citizenship.

The visas are awarded randomly to those in select countries to promote immigration from places that don't otherwise send many immigrants to the US. The bill establishing the program was signed into law in 1990.

NYPD official John Miller said Saipov has never been the subject of an NYPD or FBI investigation, but investigators are looking into how he is connected to the subjects of other investigations.

He appeared to follow the ISIS playbook to a "T" in his attack, according to Miller. ISIS has posted instructions on its websites and social media about how to attack and kill the enemies of Allah.

Saipov was not on any US government terror watch lists, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

Just over six months ago, Saipov began driving for Uber in New Jersey, the company told CNN. He passed a background check and did not have any rider complaints about his safety as a driver, according to Uber. The company is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.

Saipov once listed his occupation as a truck driver, his marriage license shows.

He had multiple run-ins with law enforcement in several states, online records show. He had traffic citations issued in Missouri and Pennsylvania and was arrested by the Missouri State Highway Patrol in October 2016 after failing to show up in court for a misdemeanor offense.

He paid a $200 bond, which he forfeited when he didn't show up in court for his next hearing in November. A guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

Saipov's wife has spoken with investigators, law enforcement officials said. Saipov, his wife and three children have a residence in Paterson, New Jersey.

Carlos Batista, one of Saipov's neighbors in Paterson, told CNN that Saipov had acted as a "peacemaker" about six months ago. Batista was riding a dirt bike at night, and Saipov's friends asked him to stop. The incident became testy until Saipov stepped in and "calmed everything down," Batista said.

Saipov has been linked to social media accounts that contain ISIS-related material, a law enforcement official said Wednesday morning. The official also said Saipov has been somewhat cooperative with FBI and New York police investigators who questioned him in the hospital overnight.

Officers were able to talk to Saipov before he went into surgery, but it was unclear if he told them anything, a law enforcement source told CNN.

The victims

Among the eight people killed, five were from Argentina, two were Americans, and one was from Belgium, according to the New York Police Department.

The Argentinians were part of a group celebrating their high school reunion in New York City, Argentina's Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi died in the attack, the ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

They had traveled to New York from Rosario, a town nearly 200 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, to mark the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation. A sixth Argentine national who was also part of the group was injured during the attack.

Nicholas Cleves, 23, from New York, and Darren Drake, 32, from New Milford, New Jersey, were the two Americans killed.

Anne-Laure Decadt, a 31-year-old Belgian woman, was also among those killed, according to a statement from her husband, Alexander Naessens. Decadt, a mother of two young sons, was on a trip to New York with her two sisters and her mother, Naessens said.

The President's response

President Donald Trump offered condolences to the victims' families and praised first responders who rushed to the scene.

"We offer our thanks to the first responders who stopped the suspect and rendered immediate aid to the victims of this cowardly attack," Trump said in a statement. "These brave men and women embody the true American spirit of resilience and courage."

Trump tweeted that he's ordered the Department of Homeland Security "to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program" and also accused Sen. Chuck Schumer of not being tough enough on immigration.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Trump called the suspect an "animal" and said that he planned to start the process of terminating the diversity lottery program.

"I am going to ask Congress to immediately initiate work to get rid of this program. Diversity lottery, diversity lottery. Sounds nice, it is not nice, it is not good. It hasn't been good and we have been against it," he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Cuomo criticized Trump's tweets.

"The President's tweets were not helpful. I don't think they were factual. I think they tend to point fingers and politicize the situation," he said.

"You play into the hands of the terrorist to the extent that you disrupt, divide and frighten people in the society. The tone now should be the opposite -- on all levels."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said "the last thing we should do is start casting aspersions on whole races of people or whole religions or whole nations. That only makes the situation worse."

De Blasio also warned against stereotyping all Muslims as extremists.

"Anyone who wants to come into this country should be very thoroughly vetted as an individual," he said. "But the minute you start generalizing it, especially to a whole religion, then unfortunately we're sending the exact negative message that a lot of our enemies want and the terrorist wants to affirm -- that this nation is somehow anti-Muslim. We've got to do the exact opposite."

Vehicles as weapons

The tactic of turning an ordinary vehicle into a lethal weapon is becoming increasingly common.

In 2014, an ISIS spokesman called for lone-wolf attacks using improvised weaponry. "If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock or slaughter him with a knife or run him over with your car or throw him down from a high place or choke him or poison him."

Since 2014, there have been 15 vehicular attacks in the West by jihadist terrorists, killing 142 people, according to a count by New America, a nonpartisan research institution. Those figures include Tuesday's attack in Manhattan.

For the past few years, New York police have reached out to vehicle rental businesses to warn them about possible terror threats.

"We did extensive outreach to the truck rental business. We visited over 148 truck rental locations in this area," Miller said Tuesday. "The industry has had a high level of awareness on this matter from the NYPD."

Miller said that if a company is suspicious of a would-be renter, they usually delay or simply deny a rental to let police investigate.

In Tuesday's incident, the suspect drove a Home Depot rental truck he drove from New Jersey, Miller said.

A spokesman for Home Depot confirmed one of the company's rental trucks was part of an incident in lower Manhattan and said the company is "cooperating with authorities" in the investigation.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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