‘He Looked Normal To Me’: Neighbors Of Attack Suspect Speak Out As More Details Emerge

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — More is being learned about the Lower Manhattan terror attack suspect, who remains under police guard at Bellevue Hospital where he’s in serious condition from a gunshot wound.

Searching with dogs and carrying out boxes and bags, FBI agents swarmed an apartment on Genessee Avenue in Paterson, New Jersey neighbors say 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov lived with his wife and two young children.

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“He looked normal to me. He was always outside on the phone. He was my neighbor,” neighbor Angel Batista told CBS2’s Magdalena Doris in an exclusive interview Wednesday. “It’s really surprising, shocking and scary.”

Another neighbor who lives in the same building as Saipov told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern he never showed signs of being disturbed.

“She saw the guy in the morning sometimes bringing his child to daycare or kindergarten,” her nephew translated over the phone. “She didn’t really speak to the guy. She said, ‘hi,’ and he said ‘hi’ back.’”

A next door neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said he was interviews by the FBI.

“That was a very surprise to me, you know, because I even didn’t know,” he told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “I didn’t watch the news. He told me, “go ahead and watch the news, that will tell you everything.'”

Carlos Batiste lives two doors down from Saipov, but only knew him to wave hello. He said he had noticed the suspect and two other men driving around a Home Depot pickup truck like the one used to create mayhem in Manhattan.

“I’ve been seeing it on and off for three weeks,” he said.

Batiste never saw the men unload or load anything into the truck and said it was parked on the block for a few days in a row.

“Just the truck. They never used it, just get in it and drive off,” he said.

Authorities said Saipov drove a rented flatbed truck 14 blocks Tuesday afternoon down a bike path at West Street and West Houston, plowing into cyclists before crashing into a school bus.

Sources say Saipov then exited the truck yelling “God is great” in Arabic before he was shot in the abdomen by police. Eight people were killed and 12 others were hurt.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said Wednesday that Saipov had been planning the attack for a number of weeks and did it “in the name of ISIS.”

Miller said Saipov left handwritten notes in his rented Home Depot pickup. He said they were written in Arabic and the gist “was that the Islamic State would endure forever.”

The Department of Homeland Security said Saipov, a native of Uzbekistan, entered U.S. in 2010 under a diversity visa program.

He first lived in Ohio where he worked as a truck driver. When he lost his insurance and work, he moved. He then married and moved to Tampa, Florida before moving to Paterson, where he worked as an Uber driver. The company says he passed the background check.

Speaking on CNN Wednesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the suspect “a depraved coward” who was “radicalized domestically.”

“Well the evidence shows, and again, it’s only several hours and the investigation is ongoing. But, after he came to the United States is when he started to become informed about ISIS and radical Islamic tactics,” Cuomo said. “We have no evidence yet of associations or a continuing plot or associated plots and our only evidence to date is that this was an isolated incident that he himself performed.”

Investigators are working to determine when he became radicalized. Former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell says Saipov followed ISIS’ orders outright by renting the pickup truck from Home Depot in Passaic and driving into a crowd.

“Kill as many pedestrians as you can. When you can’t kill any more pedestrians, get out with a knife or gun and kill more,” he said. “And then let people know either through a note or words you say that you’re doing this on behalf of ISIS. So he did all of those things.”

The attack has angered many in the mostly Muslim community, Stern reported. One member of the mosque around the corner said Saipov did not worship there.

“The community is a very strong community, very close-knit. He’s not one of us,” he said, adding that what happened in Lower Manhattan is against what the Quran stands for.

Cuomo Wednesday said the suspect “has had several run-ins with the law,” mostly for minor vehicular traffic incidents.

“New York State Police actually, ironically, once helped him out of a ditch,” he said.

Security expert Manny Gomez said it’s important that Saipov survived after being shot by police.

“So that we can get a bigger idea of why he did it or how he did it in order to perhaps profile a future attacker and prevent another attack,” he told CBS2.

Neighbors say Saipov drove a white minivan with Florida license plates. Tuesday night, a van matching that description was blocked off by police tape in the parking lot of the Passaic Home Depot.

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