The penalty phase of his trial is set to begin on Feb. 6, where a jury will decide whether he will be put to death.
On Oct. 31, 2017, Sayfullo Saipov, a then-29-year-old New Jersey resident, rented a flatbed truck, drove it over the George Washington Bridge, and got onto the West Side Highway. Once he reached the vicinity of Houston Street, Saipov swerved the truck into the bike lane and pedestrian walkway for several blocks. The truck stopped after colliding with a bus, prosecutors say.
As he got out of the truck, Saipov was heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” Law enforcement shot him at the scene, before taking him to Bellevue Hospital for medical treatment.
Federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York quickly returned a death penalty-eligible, 22-count indictment. The first eight charged alleged murder in the aid of racketeering, one for each victim of the attack — the enterprise in Saipov’s case was the Islamic State group. He also faced 12 charges of attempted murder in aid of racketeering and a single count of providing material support for a terrorist organization.
New York abolished the death penalty in 2004, but capital punishment is still available in federal courts. Former President Donald Trump was still in office when the case was charged, and he tweeted his support for executing Saipov.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2017
Prosecutors said Saipov did, in fact, ask to fly the ISIS flag in the hospital where he was being treated — and told authorities that he would have flown the banner on his truck if he weren’t worried about drawing attention to himself before the attack.
Saipov’s lawyers cited this “prejudicial” Trump tweet, and others, in a failed effort to persuade U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick to take the death penalty off the table. The case would not go to trial until the presidency of Joe Biden. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has expressed skepticism about the death penalty, ultimately did not reverse his predecessor’s decision to seek Saipov’s execution.
Saipov was quoted telling authorities that he specifically chose Halloween because he thought New York City streets would be more crowded then. Authorities say they found numerous pieces of evidence linking the attack to ISIS, including a document with a saying acolytes use to refer to the group: “It will endure.”
“Cell phones recovered from the Truck contained, among other things, videos and images of ISIS propaganda, and internet searches for truck rentals and for Halloween in New York City,” the Justice Department said.
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