(Reuters) - The man accused of killing eight people by racing a pickup truck down a New York City bike path on Tuesday may have worked as a driver and lived in New Jersey after emigrating from Uzbekistan seven years ago, according to authorities and media reports.
Few other details about the 29-year-old suspect have emerged since the Tuesday afternoon vehicle rampage in lower Manhattan, blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that destroyed the landmark World Trade Center Twin Towers.
Police have declined to identify the man but a source familiar with the investigation identified him as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov and said he was not a U.S. citizen. His immigration status was not immediately clear.
Saipov was shot by a police officer while attempting to flee minutes after the attack and was whisked away to a local hospital, where he was recovering from an abdominal wound.
With authorities saying they believe the attack was a “terrorist event,” the lack of disclosure may reflect the nature of the investigation, which is still in its earliest stage.
According to CNN and other media outlets, the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar” - Arabic for “God is greatest” - after leaping from his truck, which had crashed into a school bus as he sped away from the carnage.
He also left behind a note claiming he carried out the deadly assault in the name of the Islamic State militant group, according to reports that Reuters could not immediately confirm.
Federal officials had become aware of Saipov while conducting an unrelated investigation, the New York Times reported, citing three unidentified officials. The Times offered no further details about the nature of the investigation, when it was conducted, or its outcome.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declined to comment on that report when asked by reporters at a news conference. “It is too early to give you a definitive answer,” he said.
“HE LIKED THE U.S.”
Saipov, born in February 1988, moved to the United States seven years ago from Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union. He appears to have lived in Ohio, Florida and New Jersey since then.
An Uzbek immigrant who met Saipov in Florida several years ago told the Times that Saipov worked as a truck driver there but began driving for Uber when he moved to New Jersey.
“He was a very good person when I knew him,” Kobiljon Matkarov told the newspaper. “He liked the U.S. He seemed very lucky and all the time he was happy and talking like everything is O.K. He did not seem like a terrorist, but I did not know him from the inside.”
Saipov was an Uber driver after passing the background check, but has since been banned from the Uber app, a spokesperson with the ride-sharing company said.
“We are aggressively and quickly reviewing this partner’s history with Uber, and at this time we have not identified any related concerning safety reports,” the company said, adding that it has been in contact with the FBI.
The Times, citing sources, reported that Saipov had been living in Paterson, New Jersey, about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of the scene of the attack. He rented the truck used in the attack from a Home Depot in nearby Passaic, just south of Paterson, it said.
Police cordoned off an area of Paterson, a one-time industrial hub known for its large immigrant population, early Wednesday morning. About 25,000 to 30,000 Muslims live in the city, giving it one of the highest concentrations of Muslim people in the New York City area.
Saipov has a history of traffic violations, according to media reports and court records.
In one incident, he was pulled over in central Pennsylvania for pulling a truck trailer that was longer than permitted by law and “operating unsafe equipment”, as well as driving with the wrong operators licence, state judicial records show.
Saipov listed both Paterson and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, as his addresses. He paid his fine by mail and did not have to appear in court.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by David DeKok in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Mark Hosenball in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Frank McGurty and Paul Tait and Catherine Evans