NEW YORK - US President Donald Trump called for the death penalty on Wednesday for an Uzbek immigrant accused of plowing a truck down a New York City bike path, killing eight people, describing the man as a "terrorist."
"NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!" Trump tweeted.
Sayfullo Saipov, 29, who was hospitalized after he was shot by a police officer and arrested, told investigators he had been inspired by watching Islamic State videos and began planning Tuesday's attack a year ago, according to a criminal complaint filed against him on Wednesday.
Saipov was charged with one count of providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, specifically Islamic State, and one count of violence and destruction of motor vehicles causing the deaths of eight people.
Manhattan acting US Attorney Joon Kim said the first count carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the second would make Saipov eligible for capital punishment if convicted, if the government chose to seek the death penalty. Additional or different charges could be brought later in an indictment, Kim said.
Vehicle assaults similar to the New York attack took place in Spain in August and in France and Germany last year, claiming dozens of lives.
During the last few weeks, Saipov searched the internet for information on Halloween in New York City and for truck rentals. Saipov even rented a truck on October 22 to practice making turns, and he initially hoped to get from the bike path across lower Manhattan to hit more pedestrians on the Brooklyn Bridge.
The 10-page charging document said Saipov waived his rights to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination in agreeing to speak to investigators without an attorney present from his bed at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.
Saipov had requested permission to display the flag of the Islamic State militant group in his hospital room and "stated that he felt good about what he had done" after the attack, the complaint said.
He even considered displaying ISIS flags on the truck during the attack but decided it would draw too much attention, authorities said.
It said he was particularly motivated by seeing a video in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who led the campaign by Islamic State—also known as ISIS—to seize territory for a self-proclaimed caliphate within Iraq and Syria, exhorted Muslims in the United States and elsewhere to support the group's cause.
Saipov was also spurred to attack by the Islamic State group's online calls to action and picked Halloween because he figured streets would be extra crowded, the complaint said.
Investigators found 3,800 ISIS-related propaganda images and 90 videos on one of Saipov's two cellphones, including video clips showing ISIS prisoners being beheaded, run over by a tank and shot in the face, the complaint said.
Saipov left behind knives and a note, in Arabic and English, that included Islamic religious references and said, "Islamic Supplication. It will endure," FBI agent Amber Tyree said in court papers. "It will endure" commonly refers to ISIS, Tyree said.
John Miller, deputy New York police commissioner for intelligence, said Saipov "appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions that ISIS has put out."
A November 2016 issue of the group's online magazine detailed features that an attack truck or van should have, suggested renting such a vehicle, and recommended targeting crowded streets and outdoor gatherings, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a militant-monitoring agency.
It was not clear whether Saipov had been on authorities' radar. Miller said Saipov had never been the subject of a criminal investigation but appears to have links to people who have been investigated.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had located another Uzbek man, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, 32, wanted for questioning as a person of interest in the attack.
US law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, told Reuters that Saipov had been in contact with Kadirov and another person of interest in the investigation, though they did not elaborate.
Deadliest assault since 9/11Tuesday's assault was the deadliest in New York City since September 11, 2001, when suicide hijackers crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center, killing more than 2,600 people.
Saipov allegedly used a pickup truck rented from a New Jersey Home Depot store to run down pedestrians and cyclists along a 20-block stretch of the bike path that runs along the Hudson River before slamming into a school bus.
According to authorities, he then exited his vehicle shouting "Allahu Akbar"—Arabic for "God is greatest"—and brandishing what turned out to be a paint-ball gun and a pellet gun before a police officer shot him in the abdomen.
Of those killed, five were Argentine tourists, who were among a group of friends visiting New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation, one was a Belgian citizen, one was a New York resident and one lived in New Jersey.
Trump called Argentine President Mauricio Macri on Wednesday to offer his condolences. Trump tweeted that he spoke to Macri "about the five proud and wonderful men" who were killed.
A press statement from the Argentine presidential office said that during the call, Macri reaffirmed his belief that governments must work together strongly against the "scourge of fundamentalist terrorism."
Saipov, seated in a wheelchair, appeared for a brief hearing in Manhattan federal court Wednesday evening before Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses, appointed public defense attorney David Patton to represent him. Handcuffed and with his legs shackled, Saipov nodded his head repeatedly as he was read his rights in a brief court proceeding that he followed through a Russian interpreter.
Saipov did not ask for bail and was remanded to federal custody. It was not immediately clear where he would be held.
Outside court, his appointed lawyer said he hoped "everyone lets the judicial process play out."
"I promise you that how we treat Mr. Saipov in this judicial process will say a lot more about us than it will say about him," Patton said.
Earlier in the day, Trump said he would be open to transferring Saipov to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where other suspects including alleged September 11 plotters are held.
Kim, the federal prosecutor, said there was nothing about charging Saipov in civilian court that would necessarily prevent him from later being declared an enemy combatant.
Terrorist was argumentative and unhappy
The slight, bearded Saipov is a legal, permanent US resident. He lived in Ohio and Florida before moving to Paterson, New Jersey around June, authorities said.
Birth records show he and his wife had two daughters in Ohio, and a neighbor in New Jersey said they recently had a baby boy.
Saipov was a commercial truck driver in Ohio. He also has worked as an Uber and Lyft driver.
In Ohio, Saipov was an argumentative young man whose career was falling apart and who was "not happy with his life," said Mirrakhmat Muminov, a fellow truck driver from heavily Muslim Uzbekistan.
"He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody," Muminov said.
He said he and Saipov would sometimes argue about politics and world affairs, including Israel and Palestine. He said Saipov never spoke about ISIS, but he could tell his friend held radical views.