NEW YORK — An accused terrorist chose Halloween to “mow over people” on crowded city streets “like crops” in a 6,000-pound truck as part of his deluded quest to join ISIS, prosecutors told a Manhattan jury Tuesday.
In his closing argument at Sayfullo Saipov’s death penalty trial in Manhattan Federal Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richman said the native of Uzbekistan wanted to become a member of the Islamic State terror group by attacking Americans on their home soil.
The sick goal was all that was on Saipov’s mind when he barreled down the busy bike path parallel to Hudson River Park, killing eight people and wounding 11 others on Oct. 31, 2017, the prosecutor alleged.
Richman said before the attack, Saipov’s motives were clear, based on his online search history. During the bloodshed, he carried hand-drawn ISIS slogans.
“After his attack was completed, after he turned that bike path into a scene of bleeding and horror, after he smashed into a school bus with such force it had to be sawed open — after he received hours of medical care at the same hospital where some of his victims were treated — he asked to hang the ISIS flag and he smiled,” Richman said.
Saipov, 34, had written, “The Islamic State shall endure” in a notebook, according to the prosecutor.
“These were his words to tell the world why — why he attacked this city,” Richman said. “Why he targeted innocent civilians. Why he turned a bike path into his battle field, why he ran them over without mercy.”
The prosecutor said Saipov methodically researched how to execute the attack for months and chose a truck as his weapon of choice to inflict the most harm. He pointed to Saipov’s phone records, showing how he took inspiration from the 2016 terror attack in the French Riviera city of Nice, when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a French-Tunisian man, killed 84 people by plowing into crowds of Bastille Day revelers in a truck and then opening fire.
Richman said Saipov planned to maximize the number of people he killed by researching busy areas that attracted large crowds and told the FBI he specifically chose Halloween because he knew there would be more people on the street.
“He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly why he did it. And he knew exactly what the result would be: he would become a part of ISIS,” Richman said.
Saipov’s lawyer David Patton did not dispute that his client carried out the devastating attack, but asked jurors to acquit him of racketeering charges alleging he carried out the atrocities to join ISIS. Saipov became radicalized on U.S. soil during a job as a long-haul truck driver when he passed the time by consuming conspiracy theories online, the defense said.
“If you commit an attack and you are planning to die, you are not planning on joining an organization. You are not planning to become a member of any organization,” Patton said.
“Now, I know that as we sit here, you are surely full of anger and disgust at Mr. Saipov and what he did,” the attorney continued. “But it is vitally important not to convict him of crimes he didn’t commit, where the facts don’t meet the law, that we not compromise the rule of law even in the face of very justifiable anger and outrage at what he did.”
Prosecutors are seeking capitol punishment, the first such case under President Joe Biden’s Justice Department.
If the jurors find Saipov guilty of death penalty-eligible crimes, they will reconvene to determine unanimously whether he is executed or sent to prison for life.
During the trial, jurors saw harrowing video of Saipov allegedly plowing down the bike path in a truck he rented from a Passaic, N.J. Home Depot.
Blood-curdling screams are heard on a video of the attack and its aftermath. The jury saw footage of the accused terrorist facing a fusillade of bullets from a city cop after Saipov allegedly crashed into a school bus, ending his trail of death.
Killed in the bloodshed were Darren Drake, 32, of New Jersey, and 23-year-old New Yorker Nicholas Cleves.
Argentine tourists Hernan Diego Mendoza, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij, Hernan Ferruchi and Diego Enrique Angelini also died. Only half of the group of 10 high school friends, who’d met in the city to celebrate 30 years of friendship, made it home.
A 31-year-old mother of two, Ann-Laure Decadt, of Belgium, was fatally hit as she rode with her two sisters and mom.
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