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USA: Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Lower Manhattan Terrorist Attack

Friday 3 November 2017, by siawi3

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/nyregion/manhattan-terror-attack-wedding.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-0&action=click&contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region®ion=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article

Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Lower Manhattan Terrorist Attack

By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, BENJAMIN MUELLER, MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ and ADAM GOLDMAN

NOV. 2, 2017

Photo: The face of Sayfullo Saipov, the man charged in the deadly terror attack on Tuesday in New York, was on display on Wednesday as officials briefed the news media. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

The Islamic State claimed responsibility late Thursday for the terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan two days earlier that killed eight people and wounded a dozen more.

The statement was issued in the group’s weekly newsletter and called Tuesday’s rampage “one of the most prominent attacks targetting Crusaders in America.”

It describes the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, as a “soldier of the Caliphate” and goes on to say that the attack was carried out in response to the group’s call to target “citizens of the Crusader countries involved in the alliance against the Islamic State.”

It was an uncharacteristically late claim for a group that in the past year has typically issued its statements within the first 24 hours after an attack. It was also not released through the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency, which is usually the first to carry such statements. And it marks a break with the usual pattern of not claiming responsibility for an attack when a suspect is in custody.

As the investigation continues, the federal authorities are increasingly focusing on a wedding in Florida two years ago attended by Mr. Saipov as a possible key to understanding whether he had personal ties to people connected to the Islamic State, law enforcement officials said.

A person at the wedding was under scrutiny by the F.B.I. as part of a terrorism investigation at the time, the officials said. Mr. Saipov’s presence at the wedding brought him to the F.B.I.’s attention, though it did not prompt an investigation of him, law enforcement officials said.

The wedding, the details of which have not previously been reported, was held in August 2015 in the clubhouse of a sprawling apartment complex in Fort Myers, Fla., that was the home of relatives of Mr. Saipov, according to a Muslim cleric whom Mr. Saipov invited to the celebration.

Photo: Two years ago, Mr. Saipov attended a wedding at an apartment complex in Fort Myers, Fla. One of the people at the wedding was the subject of a terrorism investigation by the F.B.I. Credit Edward Linsmier for The New York Times

The groom was the brother-in-law of Mr. Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan. The bride was an Uzbek woman from Fort Myers, whose family lived in the apartment complex where the celebration was held.

The cleric, Abdul, who is affiliated with a mosque in Tampa and spoke on the condition that only his first name be used because he feared reprisals, described the event as a small affair with about 20 attendees, some of whom had traveled from New York and California.

The person at the wedding who was under an active F.B.I. investigation would have been the subject of physical and electronic surveillance.

While the wedding provided a clue about the direction of the F.B.I. investigation into the Manhattan truck attack, many questions about the wedding remain unanswered.

It is not clear if the F.B.I. is still investigating the person at the wedding who was under scrutiny at the time. Officials have also not named that person or said why they were investigating the person.

The wedding is at the center of widening circles of Mr. Saipov’s connections that federal agents are scrutinizing as they try to determine whether he had direct connections with ISIS operatives.

The celebration was held in a carpeted poolside meeting room with maroon walls and a built-in bar. A sign warns against exceeding an occupancy of 92 people. The apartment complex, Osprey Cove, rents the room to residents at the complex for a $100 fee, and a $100 deposit, for four hours.

Photo: After a cyclist was killed in a crash last year, a “ghost bike” was set up as a memorial at West and Chambers Streets in Lower Manhattan. On Thursday, people adorned the memorial with flowers in tribute to the eight people killed on Tuesday in the terror attack on the bike path along the Hudson River. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Oak trees and palm trees dot the complex, a circle of apartment buildings arranged around a man-made lake. The complex has about 350 apartment units.

Adjoining the party space is a smaller room where brides sometimes change and the apartment complex stores chairs and tables for big dinners.

At the wedding, Abdul said he gave about a 20-minute speech — a blessing of sorts — before the attendees ate Uzbek food and talked. He described the apartment complex as fancy, but said little else was memorable about the ceremony.

It was an unlikely setting for an Uzbek wedding because few Uzbek families live in Fort Myers, he said. He was invited to many weddings because of his following in the Uzbek community, and he officiated Mr. Saipov’s wedding, he said.

Mr. Saipov was married in Ohio in 2013 to Nozima Odilova. Officials said she was cooperating with investigators and has hired a lawyer. The couple live in Paterson, N.J., and have three children.

Abdul said Mr. Saipov attended his Tampa mosque for a time, and he became worried that Mr. Saipov increasingly misinterpreted Islam. As Mr. Saipov grew more devoted to the outward observances of Islam, Abdul said he urged him to calm down and learn the substance of the religion.

Federal investigators this week were pursuing another lead related to Mr. Saipov’s friendships in Florida. They announced on Wednesday that they were trying to learn more about a second Uzbek man, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, 32. Later that day, they said they had found Mr. Kadirov in New Jersey. They did not say why they were interested in him.

Photo: The complex in Tampa where Mr. Saipov lived. Credit Edward Linsmier for The New York Times

It was at an apartment complex in Tampa where neighbors said Mr. Kadirov lived until a few months ago where they saw him and Mr. Saipov together.

“They’d be together all the time,” said Joshua Clemente, 26, who remembered Mr. Kadirov moving into the apartment directly above his with a wife and two children. “His friend would come over. They would go inside or they would go to the mosque down the street.”

Mr. Clemente was referring to the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay, where his younger brother, Jeremy, 17, said he used to see the two men.

The brothers said an F.B.I. agent had come to the family’s apartment on Wednesday and shown them a picture of Mr. Kadirov.

“Oh, I know that guy,” the younger Mr. Clemente said he told the agent. “He was a self-conscious person. Him and the other guy would go up and down the stairs all the time. They’d just sit on the bench by the basketball court, or get into the white Toyota van that the guy with the beard had. He didn’t talk a lot; he’d only talk to the people he knew. Sometimes he’d wave or say ‘hi,’ but that was about it.”

On Thursday, Mr. Kadirov, through an intermediary, issued a statement denouncing the attack in New York.

“It is so sad and unbelievable,” the statement read in part. “It is not acceptable. We as Muslims completely reject this kind of actions. No human being who has a heart can do this.”

In New York on Thursday, the Transportation Department began placing hundreds of concrete barriers at 57 intersections along the Hudson River Park Bikeway.

Al Baker, Nick Madigan and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.