By Benjamin Mueller, Michael Schwirtz and Adam Goldman
NEW YORK – The FBI was seeking information about a second Uzbek man in connection with the truck attack in Manhattan on Tuesday that killed eight people, law enforcement officials said on Wednesday.
The news that authorities were interested in a second person significantly expanded an inquiry into the deadliest terror attack on New York City since Sept. 11.
The FBI released an alert saying they were seeking information about Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, 32, an Uzbek, in connection with the attack.
Police officials said earlier on Wednesday that the driver who sped down a crowded bike path alongside the Hudson River had been planning the attack for weeks and appeared to have connections to people who were the subjects of terrorism investigations.
As counterterrorism investigators drilled into whether the attacker, identified by officials as Sayfullo Saipov, had meaningful ties to terrorist organizations, it also became clear that some of those close to the attacker had feared for years that he was heading down the path of extremism.
Saipov, 29, rented a pickup truck from a Home Depot in New Jersey at 2:06 p.m. on Tuesday before crossing into Manhattan on the George Washington Bridge, police said in first public timeline provided by authorities. At 3:04 p.m., a camera caught him driving onto a bike path alongside the Hudson River, where police said he appeared to be targeting pedestrians and cyclists as he mowed people down.
After crashing into a school bus near Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan, he jumped out with a pellet gun and a paintball gun and shouted "Allahu akbar," Arabic for "God is great," authorities said. Investigators found a number of knives in and around the truck, police said. And near the truck was a handwritten note with a few lines of Arabic indicating allegiance to the Islamic State, law enforcement officials said.
"The gist of the note was that the Islamic State would endure forever," John J. Miller, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said at a news conference on Wednesday morning.
That language appeared to echo instructions spread by ISIS in an edition last November of Rumiyah, a magazine it uses, calling on followers to carry out a truck attack and to leave behind a note pledging allegiance to the terrorist group.
"He appears to have followed almost to a T the instructions that ISIS has put out," Miller said.
Miller said Saipov had never been the subject of a New York Police Department or FBI investigation. But he said it appeared Saipov was connected to people who were the subjects of investigations.
Other law enforcement officials said that he had been on the radar of federal authorities. Law enforcement officials said Saipov, who is from Uzbekistan, had come to federal authorities' attention after coming into contact with an Uzbek who was under investigation by terrorism investigators in New York.
A major stretch of the West Side Highway that runs alongside the bike path remained closed on Wednesday as part of an active crime scene. The attack was the deadliest terror attack in New York City since Sept. 11, and at the news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed that New Yorkers would not live in fear.
"What New Yorkers showed already is we will not change," de Blasio said. "We will not be cowed. We will not be thrown off by anything."
By Wednesday, three of the injured had been released from hospitals and nine people remained hospitalized, four of them critically injured but in stable condition, said Daniel A. Nigro, the commissioner of the city Fire Department. He said the injuries ranged from the amputation of two limbs to serious head, neck and back trauma.
Those killed came from as few as six blocks from where the attack started and as far as thousands of miles away: Nicholas Cleves, 23, of downtown Manhattan; Darren Drake, 32, of New Milford, New Jersey; Anne Laure Decadt, 31, of Belgium; and five Argentine tourists who traveled to New York for a 30-year high school reunion celebration. They were identified by the Argentine government as Hernan Mendoza, 47; Diego Angelini, 47; Alejandro Pagnucco, 47; Ariel Erlij, 48; and Hernan Ferruchi, 47.
Saipov had been interviewed by investigators in a Manhattan hospital where he was treated after being shot by a police officer as he ran through traffic after the attack. He came to the United States in March 2010 and was a legal permanent resident. He drew concerns at a mosque in Tampa that he attended before moving to New Jersey.
A preacher at the mosque, Abdula, who agreed to speak on the condition that only his first name be used because he feared reprisals from other radicals, said he tried to steer Saipov away from the path of extremism.
"I used to tell him, 'Hey, you are too much emotional,'
" Abdula said. "'Read books more. Learn your religion first,' He did not learn religion properly. That's the main disease in the Muslim community."
He added, "I never thought that he would go to this extreme."
Abdula said he first met Saipov on a visit to Ohio, where Saipov lived soon after he arrived in the United States. He attended Saipov's wedding and said he even worked for a time as a dispatcher in a trucking company that Saipov owned.
Saipov moved to Florida in the summer of 2015, Abdula said. He struggled to find regular work there, sometimes going one or two months without a job. When things went smoothly, he could be a kind person. But he was prone to explosions of anger.
"He had a character problem," he said.
Abdula recalled Saipov getting emotional over issues related to the Muslim community. He said Saipov was devoted to outward observances of Islam, like his beard, but not necessarily the substance.
Abdula said Saipov never spoke of committing violence. "I didn't hear him talking about killing people," Abdula said.
Saipov moved to New Jersey in March to be closer to his wife's family. She was due to have their third child, his first son, who was born sometime in the summer, probably July, Abdula said.
"He was hoping to have a son for a long time," Abdula said. "I would never think that he would do this kind of thing."
Saipov had earlier lived in Stow, Ohio, starting around the end of 2011, said Mirrakhmat Muminov, a truck driver and local community activist in the town, which is home to a large Uzbek population. When he arrived there, there didn't appear to be anything special about him, Muminov said.
He liked to dress fancy, but did not have enough money for accessories like a watch, Muminov said. He had a wife, but seemingly no other family. A grandfather would visit on occasion from Uzbekistan, but his parents never did.
In his three years that followed, Saipov started to change, Muminov said. He became argumentative, aggressive even, and started to grow out his beard. Muminov described him as someone "with monsters inside."
Even so, Muminov said, there was not much evidence that he was becoming more religious at that time. A traditional Muslim does not use profanity, Muminov said. Saipov cursed.
He routinely showed up late for Friday prayers at the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent, which serves the Uzbek community, and exhibited rudimentary knowledge of the Quran.
He was heavily critical of U.S. policies regarding Israel, but Muminov said that was not an uncommon sentiment in the community. Debate over such issues is usually civil in the Uzbek community, Muminov said. Not with Saipov.
"I always thought deep in my soul that he would be jailed for beating someone or insulting someone," Muminov said. "He had a vulgar character."
Saipov's problems deepened in Florida, Muminov said. He had trouble finding work and ran out of money. Within the last few months, he had been telling friends and acquaintances that he was planning to move back to Uzbekistan.
"It's boring here," he would say, Muminov recalled. "There's nothing for me to do here."