According to law enforcement officials, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, the 29-year-old Uzbekistan national suspected of mowing down pedestrians and cyclists in Manhattan on Tuesday, was interviewed by Homeland Security agents two years ago about possible ties to suspected terrorists, but the agents could not find enough to open a case on him.
Officials say that the interview was conducted in 2015 by the Department of Homeland Security Investigations Unit, who were looking into Saipov’s possible terror connections. “Saipov’s name and address was listed as a ‘point of contact’ for two different men whose names were entered into the Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit’s list after they came to the United States from ‘threat countries,'” ABC News reports, citing an unnamed federal official.
ABC reports that one of the two men has disappeared and is now being sought as a “suspected terrorist.”
NBC News presented similar information earlier in the day, citing a senior government official who indicated that Saipov “was not on government investigators’ radar, though his name did surface several steps removed from another person who was on their radar.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Saipov allegedly drove a rented Home Depot truck onto a bike path, mowing down pedestrians and cyclists for nearly a mile, before ramming into a school bus near the World Trade Center. He was shot in the abdomen by a NYPD officer and currently remains in critical care. His rampage left at least 8 dead and 11 wounded.
Police say that Saipov was yelling “Allahu Akbar” as he exited his vehicle and that they found images of ISIS flags and a handwritten note declaring “ISIS lives forever” in the truck.
After Saipov underwent surgery for his wounds, investigators spoke with him in the hospital. A senior official said that he showed no remorse for his murderous act, and in fact seemed “almost boastful about it,” according to NBC. Though Saipov was not himself on the government’s radar, said an official, his name was connected to another suspect who was:
A senior official with direct knowledge of the investigation tells NBC News Saipov himself was not on government investigators’ radar, though his name did surface several steps removed from another person who was on their radar.
Saipov’s social media activity showed that he actively sought and engaged with radical Islamic propaganda and sympathized with ISIS. Officials believe Saipov may have planned the attack; his role as an Uber driver for the last six months allowed him to be familiar with the area.
Saipov gained entry into the country in 2010 under that controversial “diversity visa lottery” program, which offers visas to immigrants from countries that send relatively few immigrants to the U.S., as opposed to a merit-based system. On Wednesday, President Trump called for an end to the program and condemned Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer for his role in developing it.
Trump also announced via Twitter that he has “ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” adding, “Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”