New York truck-attack suspect faces more charges
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday expanded and upgraded the charges against the 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant who they say plowed a rented truck into people on a New York City bike path, killing eight, and for the first time accused him of murder in aid of a criminal enterprise.
In a 22-count indictment, prosecutors said that the Islamic State was an enterprise engaged in organized crime and that Sayfullo Saipov perpetrated the attack for the purpose of gaining membership.
The Paterson, New Jersey, man was charged with eight counts of murder in aid of racketeering, 12 counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering, one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle resulting in death.
Each of the murder charges, along with the motor vehicle charge, carries a possible death sentence, though the Justice Department must still take other steps to pursue that penalty.
“As alleged in this indictment, Sayfullo Saipov murdered eight innocent people and injured many more in a calculated act of terrorism in the heart of one of our great cities,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement announcing the indictment. “People have a right to safety walking down a sidewalk or riding a bike, and we will not change our resolve to confront these threats both at home and abroad.”
Saipov was shot and wounded by police and arrested after his Halloween attack, and he has been in custody since. He was initially charged with providing support to a terrorist organization and violence and destruction of a motor vehicle resulting in death.
By prosecutors’ telling, the 29-year-old had been plotting an attack for the Islamic State for more than a year and chose Halloween so he could hit more pedestrians on the street. They say he emerged from his truck shouting “Allahu akbar” – God is great – and investigators found near the vehicle a note in Arabic text saying “No God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet” and “Islamic Supplication. It will endure.”
Saipov said he was proud of what he had done and even requested to display the Islamic State flag in his hospital room, federal authorities have alleged.
While the indictment indicates prosecutors may seek the death penalty, there is a process for doing so that takes months. First, the U.S. attorney must make a formal recommendation that they would like to seek the death penalty in the case, then that recommendation would have to be approved by the attorney general.
In the Saipov case, such deliberations will be complicated because within days of the attack, President Donald Trump publicly called for Saipov to get the death penalty, tweeting: “NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!”
Saipov’s defense attorneys are likely to seize on the president’s statement to argue it has unfairly colored the proceedings as they try to prevent his possible execution. A defense lawyer did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.