World

Sayfullo Saipov: Portrait emerging of accused NYC attacker

As Sayfullo Saipov lay in a hospital bed Wednesday, police tried to piece together the life of the 29-year-old immigrant accused of driving a truck onto a New York bike path and killing eight people. A portrait began to emerge of the suspect, who now faces terrorism and other charges.

Acquaintances describe truck driver and recent immigrant as argumentative, angry

This photograph provided by the St. Charles County Dept. of Corrections shows Sayfullah Saipov, the suspect in the deadly bike path attack in New York City. (AFP/Getty Images)

Some saw him as disagreeable and argumentative, others as quiet and prayerful. He was said to be hard-working but also seemed to simmer with disillusionment over financial and career setbacks.

As Sayfullo Saipov lay in a hospital bed on Wednesday, police tried to piece together the life of the 29-year-old immigrant accused of driving a truck onto a New York bike path and killing eight people. A portrait began to emerge of the suspect, who was described by the U.S. president as an animal and by the mayor as a coward.

Saipov legally emigrated from Uzbekistan, a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation north of Afghanistan that is estimated to have produced hundreds if not thousands of supporters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and other extremist organizations in the region..

Notes found at the crime scene indicate Saipov acted in the name of ISIS, authorities said.

To me, he was an all right guy.— Carlos Batista, neighbour

After arriving in the U.S. in 2010, Saipov made his first home in Ohio, acquaintances said.

Two other Uzbek immigrants, Akhmadjon Kholberdiyev and Mirrakhmat Muminov, came to know him and said they were most struck by how provocative he was.

Sometimes, he would stir quarrels over weighty topics such as politics or the Mideast peace process, they said. But he could also grow angry over something as simple as a picnic.

CBC News Network's Andrew Nichols spoke to Kamran Bokhari to get his thoughts on the attack in New York City. 6:20

"He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody," said Muminov, a 38-year-old from Stow, Ohio, who works as a truck driver, just as Saipov once did.

Muminov described Saipov as "aggressive" and suspected he held radical views, though Muminov never heard him talk about ISIS.

"He was not happy with his life," Muminov said.

Residents stand outside the apartment block in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where Saipov lived between 1996-2006, according to police records. (Timur Karpov/Associated Press)

Kholberdiyev, a groundskeeper at a local mosque, called Saipov quiet and said he came to the mosque to pray every two or three weeks.

According to some media reports, Saipov lived for a time in Kyrgyzstan, another former Soviet republic that borders Uzbekistan and has a sizable ethnic Uzbek minority.

In June 2010, the same year Saipov came to the U.S., the area near the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan where he reportedly lived saw violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that left at least 470 people dead. Nearly three-quarters of them were ethnic Uzbeks. The violence prompted an exodus of Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan.

Married in 2013

A marriage license filed in Summit County, Ohio, shows Saipov married  Nozima Odilova on April 12, 2013. But the couple eventually left Ohio for Florida. Saipov had a driver's license from the latter state, and some records showed an address for him at a Tampa apartment complex.

FBI agents interviewed residents at the complex on Tuesday, but some said they knew nothing of their former neighbour. Records show he worked as a commercial truck driver and formed a pair of trucking businesses that could have kept him on the road for long stretches.

People gather at what, according to local media, is Saipov's apartment in Paterson, N.J., on Wednesday. (Ashlee Espinal/Reuters)

Records show he had a handful of driving violations and was arrested last year in Missouri after failing to appear in court on a citation for brake defects. Jail records indicate he was detained for less than an hour.

Saipov, Odilova and their children moved from Florida to New Jersey in June, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Wednesday, FBI agents removed evidence bags from an apartment building in Paterson, N.J., about 32 kilometres northwest of New York City.

Neighbours react

Maria Rivera, who lives down the street, said she sometimes saw Saipov talking on his phone or with two or three other men in the neighbourhood. A month ago, when she saw a little girl walking down the street, she asked the child who her mother was.

She pointed in the direction of Saipov's home, Rivera said.

"He came out, grabbed the baby and he didn't say nothing to me," she said.

Carlos Batista, centre, a neighbour in Paterson, N.J. told CBC News' Steven D'Souza that he saw Saipov and two men come and go several times in the past three weeks in the same model Home Depot pickup used in the attack. (CBC)

Birth records in Ohio show that Saipov and his wife had two daughters, ages two and four. A neighbour in New Jersey said they had a third child, a boy, earlier this year.

Another neighbour, 23-year-old Carlos Batista, told CBC News' Steven D'Souza that he saw Saipov and "two guys" come and go several times in the past three weeks in the same model Home Depot pickup used in the attack. He says Saipov was always the driver.

"It was actually there, parked for a whole week," Batista said, and that made him suspicious. Looking back, Batista wondered if he could have done something.

When someone loses their truck, they lose their life.— Mirrakhmat Muminov

"But you can't because you just don't know," he said. 

He also recalled a recent incident in which Saipov played the role of peacemaker.

Two of Saipov's friends were angry Batista was riding a dirt bike up and down the street and ordered him to stop. Tempers flared and words escalated until Saipov came outside.

"He was the peacemaker," Batista said. "He peaced it out."

"To me, he was an all right guy because he did that."

Driving for Uber

Muminov said he last heard from Saipov a few months ago when he called asking for advice on insurance. He said he heard from friends of Saipov that his truck engine blew a few months ago.

"He lost his job," Muminov said. "When someone loses their truck, they lose their life."

That may have led Saipov to drive for Uber, which confirmed he had passed a background check and had driven for it for six months, making more than 1,400 trips.

Authorities said Saipov never was the subject of an investigation by the New York Police Department's intelligence bureau or the FBI, but they were looking at how he might be connected to the subjects of other investigations. Saipov had been planning his attack for weeks, police said.

Police scanner audio, witness accounts of bike path attack in Manhattan 1:56

Terrorism charges filed

After plowing through the bike path and into a school bus, authorities said, he emerged from the vehicle, brandishing air guns and yelling "God is great!" in Arabic.

He remained at Bellevue Hospital, where he was recovering from being shot by the police officer.

Late in the afternoon, he was taken to a federal court hearing after a terrorism charge and other counts were filed against him by prosecutors, who said he was "consumed by hate and a twisted ideology." Saipov appeared in a wheelchair, with his hands and feet shackled.

As he lay in bed at the hospital, authorities said, he asked about displaying an ISIS flag in his room. He said, according to court documents, that he felt good about what he had done.

People stop at a memorial on Wednesday, near the site of the bike-path attack in New York. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

With files from CBC News