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Feds In Truck Attack Case Paint Saipov as Having Strong ISIS Ties

In its case against the man accused of the Oct. 31 truck attack in Lower Manhattan that left eight people dead, prosecutors are drawing strong links between the defendant and the so-called Islamic State and bringing charges against him that are more often seen in cases involving domestic criminal enterprises. Sayfullo Saipov, 29, is accused of 22 total counts, which also include attempted murder in aid of racketeering, providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization and violence and destruction of motor vehicles. Twelve people were also wounded in the attack, which the government alleges that Saipov executed on Halloween because he believed more people would be on the streets. According to court papers, Saipov, who was born in Uzbekistan, allegedly rented a flatbed truck in New Jersey and, on the afternoon of the attack, crossed over into Manhattan. He headed downtown via the West Side Highway and, near Houston Street, allegedly veering onto a pedestrian walkway and bike lane there and began running over pedestrians and cyclists. Saipov exited the vehicle after it crashed into a school bus and, after he emerged with what appeared to be firearms, was shot by police and arrested. According to the criminal complaint against him, Saipov was inspired to carry out the attack—which he planned for about a year, the government alleges—by watching ISIS videos on this cellphone, which police found at the scene, and which contained ISIS propaganda, a beheading video and a video of a prisoner being run over by a tank. The first several pages of the government’s indictment against Saipov, in which the murder in aid of racketeering charge is described, are spent explaining the methods of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, referring to it as an “enterprise engaged in racketeering activity,” and alleging that Saipov sought to join the enterprise by committing the attacks. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Beaty, Amanda Houle and Matthew Laroche are prosecuting the case. Jennifer Brown and David Patton of the Federal Defenders of New York are appearing for Saipov. Arkady Bukh of the New York-based Bukh Law Firm said he is representing an alleged coconspirator in the alleged attack but declined to name his client. Bukh has represented Azamat Tazhayakov, an alleged coconspirator of the Boston Marathon bombing who was indicted on charges associated with evidence tampering. He said that a defendant facing terrorism charges may help themselves by admitting guilt early and by cooperating with the government by providing information about ISIS cells. But he said that, for Saipov, winning over a Manhattan jury may be a daunting task. “I cannot imagine a jury will find in his favor,” Bukh said. Christopher Tritico of the Houston-based Tritico Rainey, who was on the defense team for Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of use of a weapon of mass destruction and other charges in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings and executed, said the government would need to prove that Saipov has ties to ISIS to make the racketeering charges stick. But Tritico said that, by bringing the material support and motor vehicle charges, the government is giving potential jurors a broad array of options to choose from in terms of potential counts to convict. “The government is giving the jury a lot of opportunities,” Tritico said. The murder aid-in-racketeering charge is more often associated with cases involving mobsters and criminal gangs, not groups thought to be associated with international terrorism. Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York brought murder aid-in-racketeering charges against four alleged members of the “Hot Boys” robbery crew that operated in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. In another example, in 2015, the leader and top enforcer for a Brooklyn gang called “Cash Money Brothers” that operated a drug-running enterprise for 13 years beginning in 1991—and which maintained control of its turf through violence—were sentenced to six life terms in prison for murder aid-in-racketeering charges and related charges. But the murder in aid of racketeering charge has been brought in a New York terrorism case. In 1994, El Sayyid Nosair was convicted of murder in aid of racketeering and other charges in connection with a bomb plot in New York City involving several landmarks that was intended as a follow-up to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.