Opening arguments kicked off earlier today in the federal trial against Uzbek national Sayfullo Saipov, who killed eight people and wounded 11 others in 2017 when he intentionally drove a rented pickup truck down a New York City bike path in an Islamic State-inspired attack.
Prosecutors have charged Saipov with 28 counts, which include eight counts of murder, 12 counts of attempted murder, one count of providing material support to the Islamic State (ISIS) among other federal charges. Saipov has pleaded not guilty to all charges while prosecutors aim for the death penalty.
Saipov immigrated to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010 under the green card lottery program, where he lived in Ohio and Florida before settling in New Jersey. While an exact timeline remains unclear, Saipov became self radicalized due to ISIS propaganda online, especially calls by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to carry out attacks in revenge for Muslims killed in Iraq. At the time of the attack, vehicle rammings were a method of choice in ISIS and ISIS-inspired attacks, due to their relative ease in carrying out and effectiveness to inflict mass death and destruction. In the years leading up to the attack, there were over a dozen vehicle ramming attacks against western countries that resulted in over 140 deaths and hundreds of additional casualties, most notably in Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, and Barcelona.
While planning the attack for nearly a year, Saipov said that he made a test run a week prior, in which he rented a vehicle and drove to the location. On October 31, Saipov rented a Home Depot pickup truck in Passaic, New Jersey, before he drove down to the Hudson River Greenway by Pier 40 in Manhattan. From there, he drove south down the bike path, hitting cyclists and pedestrians while reaching speeds over 60 mph, in which eight were killed and seven were wounded. Saipov then crashed his truck into a special needs school bus, wounding two adults and two children. Upon exiting his vehicle, Saipov yelled “Allahu Akbar” while brandishing two toy guns before being shot and apprehended by police.
Saipov’s defense team has argued that while he is guilty of carrying out the attack, he was not a member of ISIS. Attorney Dave Patton stated that “He did it because he had become immersed in ISIS messaging online and he had become convinced it was a religious obligation for him to commit a martyrdom attack to avenge the killings of Muslims around the world. And as we sit here today, he still believes that.”
Prosecutor Alexander Li argued that Saipov was proud of what he did, stating that “He told the FBI agents how he planned and practiced his attack. He told them that his goal was to kill as many people as possible. He told them that the leader of ISIS had called for attacks and the defendant responded.”