NEW YORK >> The man accused of driving a pickup truck down a crowded Manhattan bike path, in what officials called the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11, pleaded not guilty today to multiple charges of murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering.
The man, Sayfullo Saipov, was charged in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with eight counts of murder in aid of racketeering activity, 12 counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering activity, providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, and violence and destruction of motor vehicles.
The racketeering activity referred to the terrorism of the Islamic State; according to the indictment handed up by a grand jury on Nov. 21, Saipov acted “for the purpose of gaining entrance to ISIS.”
After plowing through bikers and pedestrians on the Hudson River Greenway shortly after 3 p.m. on Oct. 31, Saipov leapt out of his rented Home Depot truck and brandished a pellet gun and paintball gun, shouting “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before he was shot by a police officer.
Investigators also found handwritten notes in Arabic near the truck that indicated allegiance to the Islamic State. On Saipov’s cellphone, FBI agents discovered thousands of videos and images, including those of ISIS fighters and instructions for making an explosive device, according to the criminal complaint filed Nov. 1.
At Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, where Saipov was taken after being shot, he asked officials to hang the ISIS flag in his hospital room, the complaint said. He told them he “felt good about what he had done.”
The murder charges and the charge of violence and destruction of motor vehicles carry a possible death sentence. President Donald Trump has called for Saipov to receive the death penalty, but officials have not decided whether they plan to pursue it. The final decision usually rests with the attorney general.
After the attack, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration would use “all lawful tools at our disposal” to prosecute terrorism.