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US prosecutors seek death penalty for Uzbek immigrant in New York killings

The Home Depot rental truck used by perpetrator Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov during the 2017 Lower Manhattan attack, the morning after the incident. (Gh9449/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. prosecutors said they are seeking the death penalty in the trial of an Uzbek immigrant accused of mowing down eight people with a truck on a New York City bike path last year.

The call for the death penalty came in court documents on September 28 in the case of Sayfullo Saipov, 30, who is charged with driving a rented pickup truck down a crowded bike path in Manhattan not far from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood.

The attack on October 31, 2017 was the deadliest in New York since the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda hijackings that brought down the towers.

Saipov’s attorneys in earlier court proceedings indicated he was willing to plead guilty if prosecutors did not seek the death penalty — something that U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly advocated in the days following the attack.

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Responding to the prosecution’s decision on September 28, Saipov attorney David Patton said: “We think the decision to seek the death penalty rather than accepting a guilty plea to life in prison with no possibility of release will only prolong the trauma of these events for everyone involved.”

‘Cruel And Depraved’

Prosecutors said that they decided to seek the death penalty because of the multitude of victims and the “heinous, cruel, and depraved manner” of their killings, because Saipov showed no remorse, and because they believe he is likely to commit further violence if set free in the future.

Saipov told investigators shortly after the attack that he was inspired by Islamic State videos and literature, and the extremist group later claimed him as “soldier” of its so-called caliphate.

Prosecutors said that Saipov felt so good about what he allegedly did that while he was recuperating from a gunshot wound he sustained during his arrest, he demanded to hang the IS flag in his hospital room.

Five of those killed were friends from Argentina who had flown to New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation. Twelve other people were wounded. The attack only ended when police chased down Saipov and shot him in the abdomen.

Saipov is due to go on trial in October 2019 on a raft of terrorism and murder charges. A one-time professional truck driver and Uber driver, the father-of-three has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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Saipov moved to the United States legally in 2010 from Uzbekistan. His family told RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service that he appears to have been radicalized after moving to the United States.

Prosecutors say he planned the attack for a year and chose to carry it out on Halloween day because he believed crowds of people would be outdoors and that would give him the opportunity to kill more people.