NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path alongside the Hudson River in New York City on Tuesday (Oct 31), killing eight people and injuring about 12 others in what authorities said was an act of terrorism.
The 29-year-old suspect was shot in the abdomen by police and arrested after he crashed the truck into a school bus and fled his vehicle, authorities said. A US law enforcement source told Reuters the suspect is an Uzbekistan-born immigrant.
CNN and the New York Times, each citing law enforcement sources, reported that investigators found a note left by the suspect claiming he carried out the attack in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Five of the dead were Argentine citizens, visiting New York as part of a group of friends celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, the Argentina Foreign Ministry said. A sixth member of the group was among those hospitalised after the attack, the ministry said in a statement.
The incident marked the greatest loss of life from a suspected terrorist attack in New York since suicide hijackers crashed jetliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Sept 11, 2001, killing more than 2,600 people.
Tuesday’s assault, on the far west side of lower Manhattan a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Centre, was reminiscent of several deadly vehicle attacks in Europe during the past 15 months.
“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror, aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.
A representative of the US Department of Homeland Security similarly called the incident an “apparent act of terrorism.” Governor Andrew Cuomo said the suspect appeared to have acted alone.
“There’s no evidence to suggest a wider plot or a wider scheme. These are the actions of one individual meant to cause pain and harm and probably death,” Cuomo told the same news conference.
Asked later in a CNN interview whether the suspect had been known to authorities before the attack, Cuomo replied: “It’s too early to give you a definitive answer.”
New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill declined to publicly identify the driver. However, a source familiar with the investigation told Reuters the driver’s name was Sayfullo Saipov.
CNN and NBC News reported that he entered the United States in 2010.
Multiple media outlets, including CNN, cited police officials as saying that the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar” - Arabic for “God is greatest” - when he jumped out of his truck.
O’Neill would only say when asked at the news conference that an unspecified comment by the suspect when he exited his truck, and the general circumstances of the assault, led investigators to label the incident a “terrorist event.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) joined the New York City Police Department and other agencies in a Joint Terrorism Task Force to conduct a probe of the attack, the FBI said in a statement.
ABC News reported that Saipov lived in Tampa, Florida. A check of court records related to a traffic citation that Saipov received in eastern Pennsylvania in 2015 showed he listed addresses then in Paterson, New Jersey, and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
The suspect drove onto the bike path in Lower Manhattan at 3.05pm (3.05am on Wednesday Singapore time) and sped south for about 20 city blocks, running down pedestrians and bicyclists along the way before slamming into the side of the school bus. Two children and two adults were injured in that collision, O’Neill said.
The man then climbed out of this truck with what appeared to be a handgun. Police later recovered a paint-ball gun and a pellet gun from the scene, authorities said.
O’Neill said the pickup truck driven by the suspect had been rented from the Home Depot hardware chain, but declined to say where it was rented.
Mangled and flattened bicycles littered the sunlit bike path, which runs parallel to the West Side Highway along the Hudson River, after the attack.
Of the eight people killed, six were pronounced dead at the scene and two more were pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, O’Neill said.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said 11 survivors with serious but non-life-threatening injuries were taken to hospitals.
Despite the attack, thousands of costumed Halloween revellers turned out hours later for New York City’s main Halloween parade, which went on as scheduled on Tuesday night with a heightened police presence just a few blocks from the scene of the carnage.
US President Donald Trump was briefed on the incident, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said.
Trump, who has pressed for a ban on travellers entering the United States from some predominantly Muslim countries, said on Twitter he had ordered Homeland Security officials to “step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
The president later said in an official White House statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of today’s terrorist attack in New York City and their families.”
He also paid tribute to the “first responders who stopped the suspect and rendered immediate aid to the victims.” Similar attacks in Europe last year killed scores of people.
On July 14, 2016, a suspect drove a large truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds more in an attack for which Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility.
Five months later a Tunisian asylum seeker, who had pledged allegiance to ISIS, plowed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48.
A driver rammed his van into crowds in the heart of Barcelona on Aug 17 this year, killing 13 people, in an attack authorities said was carried out by suspected Islamist militants.
The five Argentine citizens killed in Tuesday’s attack were identified by their home government as Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi, all from the city of Rosario. Their ages were not given.