President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan has offered the United States “all forces and resources” necessary to properly investigate the case of Sayfullo Saipov, the 29-year-old arrested after allegedly barreling through a Manhattan bicycle lane, killing eight, and reportedly telling authorities he killed in the name of the Islamic State.
Saipov is a native of Uzbekistan, according to law enforcement, who entered the United States in 2010 after receiving permanent residency through a lottery “diversity” visa.
“Uzbekistan is ready to use all forces and resources to help in the investigation of this act of terror,” Mirziyoyev said in a statement on Wednesday. “We condemn any forms and manifestations of extremism and terrorism. This merciless and very cruel crime cannot have any justification.”
The Wall Street Journal notes that Tashkent later released a statement confirming that Saipov spent his early life in Uzbekistan and graduated from the Tashkent Financial Institute in 2005. Uzbeki officials confirmed that Saipov “had no criminal record in Uzbekistan before departing for the U.S.” and that he had never been back to Uzbekistan since moving to America.
The statement also appeared to dismiss the idea that Saipov had embraced jihadist ideology in Uzbekistan, instead contending he must have encountered it outside of the country. “His parents practiced traditional Islam, and were never noticed in connection with any extremist movements,” the statement read.
The Wall Street Journal also notes that the Central Asia outlet Fergana News produced a report with photos it claims are the previous home of Saipov and his family in Tashkent. “A former neighbour of the Saipovs reported that Saifullo was raised with three sisters,” Fergana reports. “She called his family ‘modern’ and ‘secular,’ noting that Saifullo did not go to a mosque in the years she knew him.”
Saipov, Fergana continues, married a fellow Uzbek named Nozima Odilova in America, who was six years younger than him and a teenager when they married.
The report adds that Saipov also appeared to have lived in Kyrgyzstan for a time. Kyrgyz officials have not weighed in on the matter at press time.
Uzbekistan is now at the heart of an investigation into the attack in Manhattan on Tuesday, in which Saipov allegedly killed eight and wounded over a dozen more. Saipov is recovering from a gunshot wound in the hospital and, according to police, has expressed pride in his attack. He is the latest in a string of jihadists from Uzbekistan to commit similar acts of terrorism in the name of the Islamic State.
The former Soviet nation has a large Muslim majority population that suffered significant repression for most of the nation’s existence under Islam Karimov, the nation’s late first president. While initially tolerating Islamic practices following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Karimov eventually grew to see religion as a threat to his supremacy, and “unofficial” practice of the religion became a target for police. Anyone considered a political dissident, which in some cases included Muslims merely practicing religion outside of the state’s purview would be arrested and taken away to secret prisons, which various NGO reports accused of severe human rights violations.
Mirziyoyev appears to be, in some ways, relaxing the Karimov legacy. As the Washington Post notes, the current president has released a small number of the estimated thousands of political prisoners in the country and allowed the existence of some talk shows.
Mirziyoyev also hosted an “Islamic solidarity” forum in October with religious leaders from around the region, has begun reaching out diplomatically to neighboring Muslim countries that Uzbekistan had previously alienated, and is promoting a new state ideology the government is calling “Enlightened Islam,” according to the New York Times.