Driver in deadly NY car-ramming handed terror, racketeering charges

NEW YORK — A 22-count indictment was returned Tuesday against a New Jersey man in the slayings of eight people during a truck attack on a bike path in New York City.

Sayfullo Saipov, 29, of Paterson, was charged in Manhattan federal court with providing material support to the Islamic State group, along with eight counts of murder and 12 counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering. Numerous counts carry a potential penalty of death.

Prosecutors had initially announced only two charges: provision of material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, and violence and destruction of motor vehicles.

His initial court appearance in connection with the indictment is scheduled for November 28. He is expected to enter a plea at that time.

If convicted on the murder and vehicle destruction charges, he would face a maximum penalty of life in prison or death, prosecutors said.

President Donald Trump has called for him to be executed, but a capital punishment case would be extremely rare in New York, which has abolished the death penalty at the state level.

The October 31 attack was the worst in the US financial capital since the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda hijackings that brought down the Twin Towers.

Saipov allegedly drove a rented pickup truck down a mile-long stretch of bike path in Manhattan, where children and their parents were preparing to celebrate Halloween.

Of the eight people killed, five were friends from Argentina celebrating 30 years since their high school graduation. Twelve other people were wounded.

His lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.

In a release, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the attack a “calculated act of terrorism in the heart of one of our great cities.”

Acting US Attorney Joon H. Kim said “scores of videos and images on his cellphone” will be part of the evidence in the case against Saipov.

“Like many terrorists before him, Saipov will now face justice in an American court,” Kim said. “And like New York City’s response to his alleged attack, we expect that justice in this case will be swift, firm and resolute.”

William F. Sweeney Jr., head of New York’s FBI office, said the indictment should signal “that the rule of law will always prevail.”

“When Sayfullo Saipov carried out his brutal attack last month, his intentions were to inflict significant damage, death and injury to innocent victims and terrorize this city,” Sweeney added. “We announce today’s indictment with the understanding that nothing can ever reverse the unfortunate events of that day, or alleviate the pain and sorrow of the victims’ families.”

Saipov, held without bail, was charged with using a rental truck to mow down cyclists and pedestrians on a bike path.

Authorities said he made statements after his arrest about his allegiance to the Islamic State group, which later took credit for the attack. He was shot by a police officer after crashing the truck into a school bus. His injury was minor enough that he was transferred to a prison facility in Manhattan two days later.

He is now in federal custody. Investigators say he confessed to acting in the name of IS and told them he “felt good” about the killings.

Saipov came to the US legally in 2010 from Uzbekistan, where officials say he had no history of trouble with the law. He first lived in Ohio, where he was a commercial truck driver, then in Florida. He most recently lived in New Jersey with his wife and children, and worked as an Uber driver.

Authorities said in court papers that Saipov told investigators he was inspired to carry out the attack after watching a video of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi questioning “what Muslims in the United States and elsewhere were doing to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq.”

Evidence against him includes what was found on two of his cell phones, according to court documents. Investigators said one phone contained 90 videos and other Islamic State propaganda, including one of a beheading and another of a tank running over a prisoner. The other phone showed a search for truck rental outlets.

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