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Police Still Investigating Background Of Driver In NYC Terror Attack


Federal prosecutors have filed terrorism charges against Sayfullo Saipov. That's the 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan who was arrested yesterday for driving a truck into a bike lane in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people. NPR's Martin Kaste has been gathering information on Saipov, and Martin joins me now. Hi there.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

KELLY: Fill in a little bit of the gaps for us. What do we know about him?

KASTE: Well, we know he arrived in the U.S. in 2010, and he sort of moved around the country a bit. He lived in Florida and Ohio. And in these new charging documents filed this afternoon, investigators say that he's been planning an attack of some kind for about a year. We think that's roughly the same time that he moved to Paterson, N.J.

This morning, our colleague Russell Lewis went to that neighborhood, and he met Carlos Batista. He lives two doors down, and he seems to have had a very clear memory of Saipov and especially of the truck that Saipov kept renting.

CARLOS BATISTA: You know, it was a little weird about the Home Depot truck because he'll park it. You know, he'll park it anywhere on this block and wouldn't use it for anything - not construction, nothing. You know, he was always clean. He'll leave clean. He'll come back clean. And he'll always, you know, ride around with the same two guys.

KASTE: Batista was really focused on these two men that he said he saw very often in the company of Saipov. He said they kind of looked like him. They had the same kind of long, bushy beard. It struck him sort of as a traditional long beard, and yet they did not wear the traditional Middle Eastern clothing that he would associate with that. He says, no, they wore jeans and T-Shirts or just regular clothing. He says they spent a lot of time together, and he thinks the authorities should be looking more closely at those two people.

KELLY: OK, well, meanwhile, the FBI today said they were seeking a second man. We understand that second man has now been located. What do we know about him?

KASTE: We don't know very much. We know he's also of - he's also Uzbek. And they now have said they found him, as you say. And it's not clear yet if that has any connection to what Batista said or if it's connected to the fact that they have said more broadly that it turns out Saipov has connections to people they've been looking at separately.

KELLY: So to be clear, this is somebody who was a person of interest, person they wanted to question - not somebody who's been charged at this point?

KASTE: Not charged yet, simply someone they were looking for to talk to. And they have found him. But it's also very possible here that Saipov acted alone because these documents say that he was inspired to plan this attack by watching ISIS propaganda videos on his phone. And he seems to also have followed very closely the instructions that ISIS has put out on social media for how to do a vehicle attack like this. So it could very well be that he pursued this plan by himself.

KELLY: Now, you mentioned that he seems to have moved around a lot since he arrived in the United States. Do we know what his relationship was to those other communities, how he was seen by neighbors before he moved to New Jersey?

KASTE: We've never really seen any red flags come up in the conversations we've had. Some of the fellow Muslims at mosques that he's attended have said that he could sometimes be angry and kind of combative about his religious identity, though it's also reported that he didn't seem to know a lot about Islam.

There's a man in Ohio I talked to - Mirrakhmat Muminov. He knew Saipov slightly from the mosque. They had similar backgrounds. And I talked to Muminov on a cell phone earlier today. It was kind of a bad line, but you can hear here he tells me how he thought that Saipov could be aggressive and sometimes acted sort of like a depressed teenager.

MIRRAKHMAT MUMINOV: He was, it seems to me, like, it's similar - that little depression young man.

KASTE: Was he unhappy in the United States?

MUMINOV: I don't think that he was unhappy. He was unhappy to live at all.

KASTE: Unhappy to live, to be alive.


KASTE: So you can hear there that, you know, he sounds like a man who had some demons. But at the same time, we've also heard from other people, specifically one person at the mosque he attended in New Jersey, who described Saipov as someone who always smiled and never caused trouble. So we have sort of a contradiction there.

KELLY: Yeah, a complicated picture emerging of the man who has been charged with this attack yesterday in New York. Martin Kaste, thank you.

KASTE: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Martin Kaste. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.
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