On Tuesday 31st October 2017 Sayfullo Saipov, a 29 year old immigrant who moved to the US legally from Uzbekistan in 2010, drove a Home Depot rental truck southbound into a pedestrian and bike path along the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan in New York City, close to the Hudson River. He killed eight people and injured eleven in the deadliest terror attack on the city since 9/11. Six people died at the scene, while two others died at a nearby hospital. Five of the dead were friends from Argentina celebrating a graduation anniversary. An unnamed Belgian mother of two was also among the dead.
Saipov was shot in the abdomen by a New York City police officer at the scene, and was then taken in custody to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. As he exited his truck he was heard to shout “Allah-hu-akbar”. He left a note in the truck, written in Arabic, that said the “Islamic State will endure forever.” As expected, ISIS are more than happy to take credit for this atrocity, calling Saipov a “soldier of the Caliphate.”
The truck driver started his rampage near Houston Street, tearing down approximately 20 city blocks on a bike path along the Hudson River, a site popular with cyclists and runners. The truck came to a stop after it collided with a school bus near Stuyvesant High School, near Chambers Street, the location of several schools which were letting out children for the Halloween evening. He then is said to have waved a pellet gun and a paintball gun in the air while pledging himself to Allah. It was at this point that he was shot by police. At least four passengers — two adults and two children — were on the school bus when the pickup driver slammed into it. The children were among the injured.
His sister, Umida Saipova, speaking with Radio Free Europe from her home in Uzbekistan, said her family had not noticed any signs of radicalisation in her older brother. She claimed they had a “normal” conversation with him the day before the attack, in which he said he was eating his mother’s favourite pastry, and was on his way to pick up a client at the airport (Saipov worked as an Uber driver). She went on to say: “We don’t know who has brainwashed him. We don’t know his circumstances. We don’t know. Perhaps he’s become part of some organised group. My mother said she would have brought him back to Uzbekistan had she noticed anything. I don’t know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison, but I’m sure he will come to his senses, God willing.”
She also added: “We don’t think he should be given the death penalty immediately. We are hoping for a fair trial. We are ready to go there, if it’s possible, to talk to him. Please pass my message to Trump, if possible.” Good luck with that.
Whilst ISIS maybe losing real ground in the physical world, this attack in New York shows how it is gaining virtual ground in the digital world. Saipov was found to have about 90 videos and 3,800 images on his cell phone featuring ISIS propaganda, including a video of a beheading, shootings, bomb-making instructions and several images of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He also wanted to hang the group’s flag in his hospital room after the attack. Again, good luck with that. He has also told prosecutors he was inspired to carry out the truck attack by watching these ISIS videos on his mobile phone.
An imam in Florida who knew Saipov was increasingly worried that he was misinterpreting Islam. “I used to tell him: ‘Hey, you are too much emotional. Read books more. Learn your religion first,’” said Abdul, the imam, who does not want his last name used because he fears reprisals. “He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community. He had a character problem. He became more obsessed with the physical trappings of Islam: the long beard, the ankle-high pants. He never spoke of violence, though.”
As has become the norm with such atrocities, the talk of double standards rears its ugliest of heads. Below are just a few things I have come across that refer to the hypocrisies that arise in the media coverage of these types of events:
Writing in the Guardian, Moustafa Bayoumi, in an article entitled We Must End The Terror Double Standards, talks of the misguided logic used by some when analysing attacks carried out by Muslims:
The White House is also pushing a position of collective guilt that will only bode ill for Muslims and foreigners and is completely unlike its reaction from just weeks ago. The Las Vegas shooting prompted the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, to say that since “there is an ongoing law enforcement investigation” then “it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t know all of the facts.” And yet, here again, a gross double-standard stares us squarely in the face, as Donald Trump exhibits no such restraint when it comes to this attack. “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” the president tweeted last night. He is now also targeting the Diversity Visa Lottery, a system established in 1990 with the laudable goal of expanding the pool of immigrants that are admitted into the country. In their rush to connect this attack to international terrorism, journalists and politicians are missing a key fact. It takes no special training to run people over with a vehicle. You don’t need to be a dangerous foreigner to buy fake weapons like a paint gun or a pellet gun. Anyone can shout “Allahu Akbar”. It’s easy to say you claim allegiance to ISIS. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017
He goes on to say:
In American culture today, terrorist attacks by Muslims are still reflexively seen as the expression of a problem shared by all Muslims worldwide, hence the kneejerk demands that Muslims everywhere denounce all attacks by individual Muslims anywhere. Terrorist attacks by white Americans, by contrast, continue to be seen as individual psychological puzzles that are begging to be solved with sympathy and care. This logic is as dangerous as it is misguided, since it feeds the notion that Muslims, who are nearly a quarter of the world’s population, are a unique threat who require their own special set of security measures. To adopt such measures would be to abandon the very principles of equality that our society is supposed to hold dear. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017
Late night talk show host Stephen Colbert commented on how President Tweets-A-Lot reacted to the incident. Colbert tweeted himself that “The terrorist attack in the Big Apple is quickly politicized by the Big Orange.” Very clever word play, I am sure you will agree. In his talk show he went a little further:
On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah also made some rather poignant remarks about how Trump has reacted to the New York city attack.
The always controversial cartoonist Mr Fish makes an indirect point about the attention these killings are receiving as opposed to others in America.
In a brilliant article that is well worth reading in full, Wajahat Ali made the point that we need to reclaim the phrase uttered by Saipov as he was shot:
It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy…If only the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, leaving American citizens in desperate need of power, food or water, could have yelled, “Allahu akbar,” triggering that kind of tough response. Perhaps our president would have been able to see the storm as evil. Perhaps he would have been energized by a “them versus us” rage to insist on swift action to repair the damage. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, nytimes.com, from an article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back