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New York jury convicts man of killing eight by driving truck on bike path

Sayfullo Saipov, who prosecutors say is a devotee of the Islamic State militant group, could face the death penalty for the 2017 attack

A courtroom sketch shows New York City police officer Ryan Nash, who testifies during the trial of Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek man charged with using a truck to kill eight people on a Manhattan bike path on Halloween in 2017. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)
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NEW YORK — The man federal prosecutors said hoped to become a member of the Islamic State militant group when he drove a truck along a bike path in New York and killed eight people in 2017, was convicted Thursday of murder and may face the death penalty.

The case against Sayfullo Saipov, a devotee of the Islamic State, marks the first federal conviction under the Biden administration that could result in an execution. Saipov faced nearly 30 counts, including murder, in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

In addition to killing eight people on Halloween 2017, Saipov injured more than two-dozen on the scenic Lower Manhattan bike path along the Hudson River that draws locals and tourists daily.

Shortly after causing havoc on the bike path, Saipov, who was shot and wounded by police responding to the attack, wanted to hang an Islamic State flag in his hospital room, prosecutors said in seeking a conviction that could lead to the death penalty.

“After he turned that bike path into a scene of bloodshed and horror, after he smashed into a school bus with such force that it had to be sawed open, after he received hours of medical care at the same hospital where some of his victims were treated, he asked to hang the [Islamic State] flag and he smiled,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richman argued in his closing statements Tuesday.

The attack on a sunny afternoon using what Richman called a weaponized truck Saipov rented from a Home Depot in New Jersey was the worst terrorist act in New York City since Sept. 11, 2001. It occurred near the World Trade Center site.

One victim, an avid cyclist from Belgium who was on a trip with her family, is now a double amputee with serious spinal cord damage. Another survivor with crippling injuries was an aide for developmentally disabled children in a school bus. One of the children in that bus suffered a “traumatic brain injury, a collapsed lung, multiple fractures to her ribs, internal bleeding and a lacerated liver,” Richman recounted in closing arguments. Both women testified at the trial.

On the day of the attack, after plowing into cyclists and pedestrians, Saipov jumped out of the truck, waved realistic-looking fake guns and was shot by police, according to evidence presented at the trial.

While the Justice Department maintains that Saipov’s obsession with Islamist extremism and the Islamic State in particular is proof that he hoped to join its ranks, defense attorneys told jurors that Saipov had martyrdom on his mind and that he did not expect to leave the scene alive. That, they argued, means he didn’t expect to become a bona fide Islamic State soldier.

“This is not like the mafia where you commit a hit in order to become a made man,” David Patton, one of Saipov’s court-appointed attorneys, said during his summation.

Under the Biden administration, the Justice Department withdrew more than two-dozen death penalty bids in accordance with a policy the president adopted against the death penalty. In seven pending cases, including Saipov’s, the government is honoring death penalty notices that were filed before Biden took office.

The next phase of Saipov’s trial is expected to last several weeks and is slated to begin Feb. 6. The proceeding to determine his punishment is expected to involve presentations of aggravating factors from the prosecution and mitigating factors from defense attorneys.

In a separate terrorism case in state court in Manhattan on Thursday, authorities announced the conviction of Trevor William Forrest, a.k.a. Shaikh Abdullah Faisal, a.k.a. Shaikh Faisal, 59, for providing support for Islamic State. Sentencing was scheduled Feb. 9.

Mark Berman and David Nakamura contributed to this report.