The man who allegedly mowed down eight people in a rented pick-up truck in an attack described by New York’s mayor as a “cowardly act of terror” pledged allegiance to ISIS before carrying out his rampage, it has emerged.
The attacker, named by police as Sayfullo Saipov, 29, careered down a cycle path a few streets from the World Trade Centre memorial killing the cyclists and pedestrians and injuring 11 more.
Police found images of the Isis flag in the rented truck as well as handwritten notes pledging allegiance to the terrorist group, sources told the New York Post.
Five Argentinian friends celebrating 30 years since they finished school were among the victims. They were on a holiday in New York together as part of a reunion as part of a promise they made to each other three decades ago.
A Belgian national was also killed in the attack.
It came as a group of schoolchildren as young as 15 told of their horror at witnessing the carnage unfold.
Video footage of the attacker at the scene brandishing two weapons which turned out to be fake
The suspect was shot in the stomach by police and arrested after jumping out of the van with what turned out to be a fake gun in each hand and shouting “Allahu Akbar!”
The neighbourhood was busy with parents and children walking around trick or treating in Halloween costume, while many students at nearby schools and colleges were either on their way home or preparing to leave for the day when the attacker struck.
Saipov, originally from Uzbekistan, has a Florida driving licence but may have been living in New Jersey.
A group of Argentinian friends were among the victims (Facebook)
Uber confirmed that Saipov was one if its drivers, and the company said he passed a background check and had been actively driving on the platform for more than six months.
Thomson Lee, 16, from Queens, a pupil at Stuyvesant High School, near the corner of Chambers Street and West Street where the truck came crashing to a halt, said he hid under a table after he heard gunshots and saw people running for their lives.
He said: “We were in class and I heard gunshots that I later figured out was the police shooting the suspect. Around that time they [the school] said that we were in lockdown and that is when I realised something was happening.
Armed police patrol the scene after the attack (AP)
“I looked out and just saw people running towards buildings so they could get in for safety. When I looked out the window and saw people running I knew something was happening and we all just ducked under our seats.
“At first most people didn’t react because we just heard the announcement and we didn’t know how to respond to that. It took us a couple of seconds to understand what was actually happening.”
He added: “It was pretty stressful for the first couple of hours without being able to get out. Knowing that the threat has been apprehended and in custody is reassuring.”
The rented pick-up truck which was used to mow down pedestrians (REUTERS)
Fellow pupil Jessica, whose 15th birthday was yesterday and was wearing Minnie Mouse fancy dress, was in Spanish class when the attack took place.
She said: “Some of us thought it was a drill at first and then they said that something’s happening outside. Some of us went to the window, I didn’t go to the window right away, but there were a lot of cop cars and stuff like that. We all just sat around…
One of the victims strewn on the tarmac at the scene (AP)
“It was pretty scary knowing that it happened right outside…
“We were put into lockdown mode about 3.15pm. Our classes usually end around 3.35pm but there were no bells, they cancelled the bells, we stayed in school up until now. I was on the fourth floor so when they started they started by the first floor and they were taking us out by floors.”
She added: “I could see cop cars were coming and ambulance cars were coming. There’s a video that was being sent around [between students] of the shooter with the guns.”
Eight people were killed and 11 injured (AP)
Zachary Yao, 13, a pupil at IS 289 Middle School, near the scene, said: “I was supposed to go to after school but then it [the attack] just happened and after school was cancelled.
“One of my friends, she ran in, she saw what happened and then she just ran in to alert everybody of what was happening. She saw the crash and then the guy who came out with the two guns.
“I didn’t know what to do so I just stayed calm and followed what the teachers were doing. I feel relieved.”
Lupe Hernandez, 35, a stay-at-home mother who lives near the scene, feared her son was on the school bus that was hit.
Pedestrians and cyclists were among those killed (AP)
She said: “My heart sank because he was on a school bus at the time [of the attack] and we were expecting him so we were just happy that he was OK…It was a phone call we got from somebody that was outside and told us. We heard the sirens but we didn’t know why or what was going on, it was hard to find out actually.”
As well as being home to numerous schools, a college also overlooks the crime scene.
Nursing student Catherine Davis, 45, arrived at Borough of Manhattan Community College, shortly after emergency services arrived.
She said: “I was on my way to school [college], I just went upstairs in their nursing department and you could see it from our lab…I heard a lot of news as I was coming in from Brooklyn.
The attack came as children took to the streets for Halloween (REUTERS)
“My friend started with saying ‘something really weird is going on outside school’ and she sent me a picture…I thought it was just the President was coming and she said no and sent me another picture about how there were first responders coming…When I got to school I ran upstairs and looked out the lab and there were police cars and ambulances and there was deceased individuals with sheets covering them…Everybody was really scared.”
Residents and employees in nearby apartment blocks said they were first alerted to the incident by gunshots.
Travis Cook, 55, ran out of the building where he works as a concierge after hearing multiple gunshots soon after 3pm as children were starting to come out of the nearby schools.
He said: “I heard some gunshots, it was maybe seven, eight, in rapid succession. I knew it was gunshots and then nobody was running or screaming or anything so it was strange.
“I didn’t see anything, I just heard it. It’s tragic, sad.”
He added: “At first, I knew it was gunshots but I didn’t know what reason but now they have all these conflicting stories. I just want to know the truth. People died, it’s sad.”
Leslie Danoff, 66, who lives on the 19th floor of a building overlooking the scene of the attack, said her husband heard the shots form their apartment.
She said: “He thought they were firecrackers. Who thinks that, in this very safe neighbourhood, but no neighbourhood is safe which we all know but it’s very scary.
“By the time I looked I think the bodies had already been taken. I saw some people on stretchers, I saw a huge number of policemen and fire trucks and police cars with flashing lights and the tape went up almost immediately.
“I saw from my window the Home Depot truck, I could see the bus…But there was such a fast response by the police…I walk my dog there all the time so it’s extremely rattling and I feel so bad for the innocent people who were just riding their bikes.”
Although the crime scene and the surrounding area was cordoned off by police late into the night, the neighbourhood’s trick or treaters remained unperturbed and Manhattan’s Halloween Parade took place last night as planned. President Donald Trump tweeted afterwards: “In NYC, looks like another attack by a very sick and deranged person. Law enforcement is following this closely. NOT IN THE U.S.A.!”
Following the attack, the driver reportedly jumped out of the truck and ran along the West Side Highway holding a paintball gun and pellet gun shouting “Allahu Akbar” before being shot in the stomach by a police officer.
Five of those killed were reportedly tourists from Argentina on a high school reunion and one was from Belgium.
CNN reported that authorities found a note in the truck claiming that the attack was carried out in the name of ISIS.