NEW YORK — The suspect in the deadly truck attack in New York that left eight people dead on Halloween had planned the act of terrorism for weeks and left handwritten notes indicating that the extremist group Islamic State would endure forever, officials said Wednesday.
The suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, staged the attack Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan “in the name of” Islamic State and had multiple knives in addition to pellet and paintball guns, said New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner John Miller.
Investigators worked through the night to determine what led Saipov, a 29-year-old who came to the U.S. from Uzbekistan legally in March 2010, to plow a truck down a riverfront bike path near the World Trade Center, brandishing air guns and yelling “God is great” in Arabic as his deadly route of terror ended with a crash, authorities said.
President Donald Trump, who had spoken cautiously after the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead, responded much more aggressively Tuesday. He called for Congress to crack down on U.S. immigration programs and criticized the judicial system’s handling of terrorists.
“We also have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now,” Trump said Wednesday before the start of a Cabinet meeting in Washington.
On Wednesday morning, Saipov, who was shot in the stomach by a police officer, remained at Bellevue Hospital, and authorities were awaiting news of his condition, police officials said at a news conference.
Authorities encouraged New Yorkers to go about their business as usual, despite the beefed-up law enforcement they could expect to see around the city out of an “abundance of caution.”
Public schools around the city were open Wednesday, including Stuyvesant High School, next to where Saipov’s rented truck smashed into a school bus Tuesday.
Jenny Sheffer-Stevens accompanied her son Hutch, 12, back to IS 289 Middle School, which sits near the intersection where the truck hit the bus.
The day before, Hutch had witnessed the immediate aftermath of the attack and saw Saipov emerge from the truck carrying what he thought were two handguns. In a “fight or flight” reaction, he yelled at his classmates to run back into the school, where they sheltered upstairs.
Though students had permission to miss school Wednesday, Sheffer-Stevens said she and her son wanted “a balance between business as usual and keeping the conversation going.” She said they passed newsstands where the attack “was on the cover of everything.”
A roughly two-mile stretch of highway in Lower Manhattan was shut down for the investigation. Authorities also converged on a New Jersey apartment building and a van in a parking lot at a New Jersey Home Depot store, a U.S. official briefed on the investigation said.
Police and the FBI urged members of the public to give them any photos or video that could help. The attack echoed a strategy that Islamic State has been suggesting to its followers.
The victims reflected a city that is a melting pot and a magnet for visitors: One of the dead was from Belgium. Five were from Argentina and were celebrating the 30th anniversary of a school graduation, according to officials in those countries. The injured included students and staffers on a school bus that the driver rammed.
“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,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Officials who were not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity said the slight, bearded Saipov came to the U.S. legally in 2010. He has a Florida driver’s license but may have been staying in New Jersey, they said.
Records show Saipov was a commercial truck driver who formed a pair of businesses in Ohio. He had also driven for Uber, the ride-hailing company said. An Ohio marriage license shows that a truck driver with one of Saipov’s addresses and his name, spelled slightly differently, married a fellow Uzbek in 2013.
Police said the attacker rented the truck about 2 p.m. at a New Jersey Home Depot and then went into New York City, entering the bike path about an hour later and speeding toward the World Trade Center, the site of the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.
The driver barreled along the bike path in the truck for the equivalent of about 14 blocks, about eight-tenths of a mile, before slamming into a small yellow school bus.
“A person hopped out of the car with two guns and started yelling and screaming,” said a 12-year-old student who had just left a nearby school. “They were yelling ‘Allahu Akbar.'”
The boy, whose mother asked that his name be withheld, said he ran back into the school, where students cried and huddled in a corner.
Video shot by bystanders showed Saipov walking through traffic wielding what looked like two handguns, but which police later said were a paintball gun and a pellet gun. A police officer shot Saipov when he wouldn’t drop the weapons, police said.
The mayhem set off panic in the neighborhood and left the pavement strewn with mangled bicycles and bodies that were soon covered with sheets.
“I saw a lot of blood over there. A lot of people on the ground,” said Chen Yi, an Uber driver.
The note inside the truck was handwritten in a foreign language, according to one of the two law enforcement officials who spoke about the document.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called Tuesday’s carnage a “lone wolf” attack and said there was no evidence to suggest it was part of a wider plot.
Statements of support and condolences rolled in from around the world Wednesday.
Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev sent his condolences to Trump and the families of the victims, and offered his country’s assistance in investigating the attack.
Similar statements were issued by France, Iran’s foreign ministry, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar.
New York and other cities around the globe have been on high alert against attacks by extremists in vehicles. England, France and Germany have seen deadly vehicle attacks in the past year or so.
At a news conference Tuesday evening, Miller of the NYPD said authorities had conducted “extensive outreach” to more than 148 local truck rental companies after those incidents, advising them on suspicious indicators and how to come forward with information.
“The industry has had a high level of awareness on this matter,” Miller said.