An Uzbek immigrant accused of ploughing a truck down a New York City bike path, killing eight people, told investigators he had been inspired by watching Islamic State videos and began planning the attack a year ago, according to a criminal complaint filed against him on Wednesday.
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, who was hospitalised after he was shot by a police officer and arrested, confessed to authorities that he made a trial run with a rental truck on October 22 to practice turning the vehicle and “stated that he felt good about what he had done” after the attack, the complaint said.
The 10-page charging document said Saipov waived his rights to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination in agreeing to speak to investigators without an attorney present from his bed at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.
In the course of that interview, the complaint said, Saipov told investigators he chose Halloween for the attack because he believed more people would be on the streets and said he had originally planned to strike the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the bike path on the western edge of lower Manhattan.
The complaint said Saipov had requested permission to display the flag of the Islamic State militant group in his hospital room.
It said he was particularly motivated by seeing a video in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who led the campaign by Islamic State - also known as IS - to seize territory for a self-proclaimed caliphate within Iraq and Syria, exhorted Muslims in the United States and elsewhere to support the group’s cause.
Investigators found thousands of IS-related propaganda images and videos on a cellphone belonging to Saipov, including video clips showing IS prisoners being beheaded, run over by a tank and shot in the face, the complaint said.
Separately on Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had located another Uzbek man, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, 32, wanted for questioning as a person of interest in the attack. The FBI earlier had issued a wanted posted for Kadirov.
US law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, told Reuters that Saipov had been in contact with Kadirov and another person of interest in the investigation.
Eligible for death penalty
Saipov was charged with one count of providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation, specifically Islamic State, and one count of violence and destruction of motor vehicles causing the deaths of eight people.
Manhattan acting US Attorney Joon Kim said the first count carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the second would make Saipov eligible for capital punishment if convicted, if the government chose to seek the death penalty. Additional or different charges could be brought later in an indictment, Kim said.
Saipov, seated in a wheelchair, appeared for a brief hearing in Manhattan federal court Wednesday evening before Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses. A Russian interpreter translated for Saipov.
Saipov did not ask for bail and was remanded to federal custody. It was not immediately clear where he would be held.