By Arul Louis
New York, Nov 1 (IANS) A resolute New York was on high alert on Wednesday after an Islamic State-linked terror strike using a van killed eight people – most of them tourists – on Tuesday near the site of the 9/11 attack.
Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, 29, a Uzbek immigrant who drove the rented van on to a bike path along the Hudson River running over bicyclist and pedestrians amd also injuring 13 people, was shot and arrested by police.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Saipov’s was “classic case of a radicalization of a domestic jihadist who associated with ISIS” but was sceptical that a network was behind it, telling CBS, “The best evidence we have is that he was a ‘lone wolf’.”
Police Commissioner James O’Neil said that one of the indications of a terror link was “a statement when he exited the vehicle” with witnesses saying Saipov shouted “Allahu Akbar”.
Police reported finding notes left by the alleged attacker about the Islamic State, which has told its followers to use vehicle as weapons of mass killings when they cannot get bombs or guns. Saipov’s attack appeared to be a text-book example of the nightmare tactic carried out across Europe.
South Asian student, Tawhid Kabir, made a video of the last moments of Saipov’s rampage and his capture and it was broadcast by several TV stations. He said that at first he thought it was a Halloween prank but when he realised the bullets were real, he ducked. When he looked up, he said Saipov’s arrest.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined world leaders in condemning the terrorist strike, tweeting: “Strongly condemn the terror attack in New York City. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and prayers with those injured.”
The city is gearing up for the TCS-New York Marathon, a high-profile international event sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services and bearing its name, on Sunday. Organisers said they race would go on with police announcing high-level security for it. More than 50,000 runners finished the race last year and nearly 100,000 have applied to run this year.
New York Road Runners, which organises the 42-km marathon, said in a statement: “Together with our agency partners, we have extensive safety and security measures in place, both visible and behind the scenes.”
But a traditional ceremony on Wednesday to paint the blue lines on the race route was cancelled.
In 2013, two brothers from another former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan, had set off bombs made with pressure cookers at the Boston Marathon killing three people and injuring about 500.
“New Yorkers are resilient, our spirit will never be moved,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio declared at a news conference.
On Tuesday night, defiant New Yorkers dressed in costumes drawn from myth, history and popular entertainment, marched in the annual Halloween Parade scheduled near the site of the rampage. In an unusual gesture, de Blasio and Cuomo led the parade.
October began with the killing of 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas by a lone gunman in a hotel room. Unlike the New York attack that ended the month, authorities have not been able to find a motive for that attack by Stephen Paddock.
Officials in their countries identified five of those killed as tourists from Argentina and one from Belgium. New York officials have not identified the victims and as of Wednesday morning, no information was available about the other two killed.
The alleged involvement of an immigrant in the New York attack reignited the debate over immigration and security vetting of those entering the US.
Saipov immigrated to the US in 2010 under a State Department lottery programme to give green cards to people from countries sending few immigrants. (Indians are not eligible for it.)
President Donald Trump, who has said that he wants to end this, tweeted after the attack: “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”
After the IS link was revealed, Trump tweeted: “We must not allow IS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!”
Experts on terrorism have said that after the IS recently lost its bases in Syria and in Iraq, it would increase attacks in the West.
While the New York attack can be viewed as a setback for Trump who had vowed to stamp out terrorism, he can claim that his anti-terrorism efforts have met with opposition. He is already using the attack as an argument for his plans for restricting immigration and stricter scrutiny of immigrants.
Trump’s repeated attempts to restrict immigration from some countries that he says pose a risk have been blocked by courts, but Uzbekistan was not on his list.
Saipov has been a driver for Uber and lived in Patterson, New Jersey, a suburb of New York, with his wife and two children. Their apartment was near a mosque that had been under surveillance by New York Police to identify terror plots, the Bergen Record newspaper reported.
The surveillance ended in 2014 after lawsuits from civil rights groups challenging it.
Saipov’s attack came to an end when his van hit a school bus. He came out of it waving what appeared to be two weapons, which turned out to be a paintball gun and pellet gun, police said. Two devices inside the van that looked like bombs were found to be fake, authorities said.
He is in hospital after a surgery.
The mile-long rampage left a trail of smashed bicycles and carnage in a mostly residential area with several educational institutions, about 400 metres from the World Trade Centre that was attacked on September 11, 2001, by terrorists on a hijacked plane killing about 2,750 people.
The attack happened around the time the nearby schools were ending the day. Of those injured, two were students and another was a school employee who were on the bus that was hit by the van.
The schools were put in a lockdown with students herded back in and kept inside for more than an hour while parents waited outside anxiously.
In May, a car was driven into pedestrians in Times Square killing a tourist and injuring about 20 people. Authorities declared that the driver, ex-Navy man Richard Rojas, was not a terrorist.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])
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