Authorities say terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov planned deadly New York truck attack for weeks

TASHKENT/ALMATY, Nov 1 (Reuters) - An Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in New York by driving a rental truck down a bike path became interested in religion after emigrating to the United States, a fellow Uzbek who spoke to him two months ago told Reuters on Wednesday.

Police said they had interviewed Sayfullo Saipov, 29, who was shot and arrested by police moments after the rampage in lower Manhattan on Tuesday.

He had entered the United States in 2010, police said. CNN, citing police officials, said he had left a note saying he carried out the attack in the name of Islamic State and had shouted "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is greatest."

A look at the scene of the attack:

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Truck plows through New York City bike path in terror attack
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Truck plows through New York City bike path in terror attack
Police investigate a vehicle allegedly used in a ramming incident on the West Side Highway in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Parents pick up their children from Public School 89 near the scene where a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
All media responding to the incident in Lower Manhattan are asked to meet DCPI reps at Chambers Street and Greenwich Street.

Photo: Martin Speechley/Office of the Deputy Commissioner Public Information (DCPI)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Emergency personal respond after reports of multiple people hit by a truck after it plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. According to reports up to six people may have been killed. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Police gather at the scene after reports of multiple people injured after a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 6 dead and 11 people have been injured. (Photo by Andy Kiss/Getty Images)
NYPD investigators are at the crime scene near a bike path in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
A police dog checks out vehicles along the street after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Police block off the street after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: NYPD officers respond after reports of multiple people hit by a truck after it plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. According to reports up to six people may have been killed. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Parents pick up their children from a local school after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A NYPD officer stands guard at a crime scene near a bike path where a body is covered with a white-sheet in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Police direct people away from the scene after reports of multiple people injured after a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 6 dead and 11 people have been injured. (Photo by Andy Kiss/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: NYPD officers respond after reports of multiple people hit by a truck after it plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. According to reports up to six people may have been killed. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Children are evacuated from a school as Emergency personal Respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: NYPD officers respond after reports of multiple people hit by a truck after it plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. According to reports up to six people may have been killed. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Police investigate a vehicle allegedly used in a ramming incident on the West Side Highway in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A Home Depot truck which struck down multiple people on a bike path, killing several and injuring numerous others is seen as New York city first responders are at the crime scene in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Parents pick up their children from P.S./I.S.-89 school after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Parents pick up their children from P.S./I.S.-89 school after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Parents pick up their children from P.S./I.S.-89 school after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Emergency personal respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Emergency personal respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: A NYPD Officer blocks a street as emergency personal respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Parents pick up their children from school near the scene where a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Emergency personal respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Law enforcement officers secure an area following an incident in New York on October 31, 2017. A pickup driver killed eight people in New York on Tuesday, mowing down cyclists and pedestrians, before striking a school bus in what officials branded a 'cowardly act of terror.' Eleven others were seriously injured in the broad daylight assault and first deadly terror-related attack in America's financial and entertainment capital since the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda hijackings brought down the Twin Towers. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
An investigator walks past a crashed pickup truck following an incident in New York on October 31, 2017. A pickup driver killed eight people in New York on Tuesday, mowing down cyclists and pedestrians, before striking a school bus in what officials branded a 'cowardly act of terror.' Eleven others were seriously injured in the broad daylight assault and first deadly terror-related attack in America's financial and entertainment capital since the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda hijackings brought down the Twin Towers. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers on Chambers Street surround the rented Home Depot Inc. pick up truck used in a motorist attack on the West Side of Manhattan in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. A man in a rented pickup truck drove onto a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Center memorial and mowed down people Tuesday, killing at least eight and injuring several others. Photographer: Tim Fadek/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Emergency personal respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Parents pick up their children from Public School 89 near the scene where a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Police surround the area where a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 6 dead and 15 people have been injured.(Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Authorities walk just outside the perimeter of the crime scene following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday when a suspect plowed a vehicle into a bike and pedestrian path in Lower Manhattan, and struck another vehicle on Halloween, police said. A suspect exited the vehicle holding up fake guns, before being shot by police and taken into custody, officers said. The motive was not immediately apparent. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Parents pick up their children from Public School 89 near the scene where a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - OCTOBER 31 : Security forces cordon off the area after a man reportedly drove a pick up truck along a bike lane near the West Side Highway in New York City on October 31, 2017. Eight people were reportedly killed in the incident, at least 12 were injured. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Children are evacuated from a school as emergency personal respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: SWAT members check for explosives under a car one block from the scene where a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 6 dead and 15 people have been injured.(Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Parents pick up their children from Public School 89 near the scene where a truck plowed through a bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - OCTOBER 31 : Security forces cordon off the area after a man reportedly drove a pick up truck along a bike lane near the West Side Highway in New York City on October 31, 2017. Eight people were reportedly killed in the incident, at least 12 were injured. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: A NYPD Officer blocks a street as emergency personal respond after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - OCTOBER 31 : Security forces cordon off the area after a man reportedly drove a pick up truck along a bike lane near the West Side Highway in New York City on October 31, 2017. Eight people were reportedly killed in the incident, at least 12 were injured. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
New York Fire Department (NYFD) and New York Police Department (NYPD) vehicles sit parked on a blocked off street after a motorist attack on the West Side of Manhattan in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. A man in a rented pickup truck drove onto a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Center memorial and mowed down people Tuesday, killing at least eight and injuring several others. Photographer: Tim Fadek/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A young girl reacts as police officers secure an area following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday after a vehicle plowed into a pedestrian and bike path in Lower Manhattan, police said. 'The vehicle struck multiple people on the path,' police tweeted. 'The vehicle continued south striking another vehicle. The suspect exited the vehicle displaying imitation firearms & was shot by NYPD.' / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - OCTOBER 31 : Security forces cordon off the area after a man reportedly drove a pick up truck along a bike lane near the West Side Highway in New York City on October 31, 2017. Eight people were reportedly killed in the incident, at least 12 were injured. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Police officers inspect a truck following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday when a suspect plowed a vehicle into a bike and pedestrian path in Lower Manhattan, and struck another vehicle on Halloween, police said. A suspect exited the vehicle holding up fake guns, before being shot by police and taken into custody, officers said. The motive was not immediately apparent. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: Emergency personal respond to reports of possible shooting in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. According to reports up to eight people may have been killed. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
A bicycles lies inside the roped off crime scene following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday when a suspect plowed a vehicle into a bike and pedestrian path in Lower Manhattan, and struck another vehicle on Halloween, police said. A suspect exited the vehicle holding up fake guns, before being shot by police and taken into custody, officers said. The motive was not immediately apparent. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Police investigate a vehicle allegedly used in a ramming incident on the West Side Highway in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Police officers secure an area following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday after a vehicle plowed into a pedestrian and bike path in Lower Manhattan, police said. 'The vehicle struck multiple people on the path,' police tweeted. 'The vehicle continued south striking another vehicle. The suspect exited the vehicle displaying imitation firearms & was shot by NYPD.' / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers arrive at the scene following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Multiple people were hurt in downtown Manhattan, US media reported after police confirmed that they were responding to reports of a shooting. Police said they had mobilized to the scene in Lower Manhattan and that one person was in custody, giving no further details. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch as police officers secure an area following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday after a vehicle plowed into a pedestrian and bike path in Lower Manhattan, police said. 'The vehicle struck multiple people on the path,' police tweeted. 'The vehicle continued south striking another vehicle. The suspect exited the vehicle displaying imitation firearms & was shot by NYPD.' / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
A pickup truck used in an attack sits on the intersection of West and Chambers Street in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 31 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 31: Media gathers at West St. and Murray St. after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 31: Police gather at Greenwich St. and Murray St. after a man driving a rental truck struck and killed eight people on a jogging and bike path in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2017 in New York City. Officials are reporting up to 8 dead and at least 15 people have been injured. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
Parents pick up their children from P.S./I.S.-89 school after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Parents pick up their children from P.S./I.S.-89 school after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Parents pick up their children from P.S./I.S.-89 school after a shooting incident in New York City, U.S. October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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"He became religious on the spur of the moment," Mirrakhmat Muminov, a truck driver and Uzbek community activist who lives in Stow, Ohio, told Reuters by phone. He said Saipov had previously lived in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

"He started studying religion in the United States," said Muminov, adding that Saipov "couldn't get enough" of the religious freedoms enjoyed in the United States after living in the strict confines of Uzbekistan.

A Reuters reporter found Saipov's family home in Tashkent, a grey one-storey house, but nobody answered the door on Wednesday and a neighbour said his parents had left earlier in the day.

In Uzbekistan, an authoritarian, predominantly Muslim country in Central Asia ruled by Moscow until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the practice of Islam is tightly controlled by a government wary of radicalism.

Tuesday's attack shines an uncomfortable light on Islamist militancy in the wider region of Central Asia that has supplied Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with thousands of fighters. The rampage in New York was at least the fourth deadly attack by an Uzbek national or ethnic Uzbek this year.

A security source in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan told Reuters Saipov had also lived there, receiving temporary identity papers in the town of Uzgen, which lies in the sometimes volatile Ferghana Valley, in 2004.

In the United States, Muminov said, Saipov had lived in Stow two or three years ago, they had met through the local Uzbek community, and Saipov had worked as a truck driver.

 

"AGGRESSIVE LONER"

Muminov said he had heard about the attack from Uzbeks in the Stow area some of whom he said were getting ready to be questioned by the authorities.

He said he had no first-hand information about whether Saipov had carried out the attack and painted a picture of a man who was struggling to make it in the United States, had few friends and poor communication and English-language skills.

"He was withdrawn, nervous, sometimes aggressive. Because of that he was lonely, he lived in his own world. He was not very popular,” said Muminov. He said Saipov's English was poor and he did not speak Russian very well. Muminov said he had last spoken to Saipov about two months ago.

Jahon, Uzbekistan's state news agency, said Saipov was born on Feb. 8, 1988 in Tashkent and had studied finance before taking a job as an accountant in a hotel in the city. It said he had no criminal convictions and had not "in general" caught the attention of the police.

Saipov had won a U.S. green (residence) card in a 2010 lottery and left for the United States that same year where he had later married an Uzbek woman living there, Jahon said.

He had not returned to Uzbekistan since 2010 or since seen his parents, who live in Tashkent and who the agency said practiced a "traditional" form of Islam and were not known to have any extremist links.

The state agency stressed how Saipov had not behaved suspiciously while living in Uzbekistan. "(But) after moving to the United States Saipov became withdrawn and fell under the influence of radical groups," Jahon said.

In a letter of condolence to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said Tashkent was ready to use "all its resources" to help investigate the New York attack.

It was the bloodiest single attack on New Yorkers since the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings of jetliners steered into the World Trade Center. It poses a challenge for Mirziyoyev, who assumed office at the end of 2016 and is trying to slowly open up his country after decades of authoritarian rule.

On New Year's Day, an Uzbek gunman burst into a nightclub in the Turkish city of Istanbul and killed 39 people. In April, an ethnic Uzbek man born in Kyrgyzstan blew up a metro train in the Russian city of St Petersburg, killing at least 14 people, and that same month an Uzbek man rammed a truck into a crowd in Stockholm, killing four people. (Additional reporting by Hulkar Isamova in Osh; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)

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