Sayfullo Saipov’s neighbors and acquaintances have been coming forward to paint a portrait of the suspected New York City terrorist.
One Tampa neighbor casually dropped a remarkable detail deep in a Washington Post story on Wednesday: a group of “about 30 men, young and old, gathered at Saipov’s house to pray” on “most weekends.”
No further information is provided about these men or whether they are persons of interest to law enforcement.
The neighbor, Kyong Eagan, spoke well of Saipov, describing him as a “very polite man” who gave her water, juice, and even home-cooked meals during the year he lived in her apartment complex.
She expressed astonishment that he committed a terrorist atrocity: “He never said anything hateful about the country. He’s a monster now.”
An imam at a mosque Saipov attended in Tampa told the New York Times he “worried Mr. Saipov was misinterpreting Islam and urged him to calm down and study the religion.” This imam asked for anonymity because he feared reprisals from other radicals. This information does not paint Saipov as an encouraging candidate for holding prayer services, although he might only have provided the venue.
According to the Washington Post profile, Saipov left Tampa at some point during the spring. Eagan has a receipt dated March 8 for donating some goods he left behind to the Salvation Army.
CNN’s timeline has him arriving in the United States on his now-notorious “diversity visa” from Uzbekistan in 2010 and later becoming a legal permanent resident. He married a woman from Uzbekistan in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, in 2013, billing himself as a truck driver on his marriage license and registering two auto-related companies during his time in Ohio.
From Ohio, he moved to Tampa and then to Paterson, New Jersey, where the FBI extensively examined his residence and the surrounding area.
People from each of these areas have different recollections about Saipov. Classmates from Uzbekistan recalled him as a calm, studious, and kindly boy from a good family. “He is not the kind of boy to hurt people, not the kind to kill people,” a resident of his neighborhood in Uzbekistan told CNN.
“He liked the U.S. He is no terrorist,” a fellow Uzbek immigrant who knew Saipov in Florida told NBC News.
An acquaintance from Ohio described him as a “nervous person” but reported seeing no signs of radicalization. Another friend painted a darker portrait, claiming, “Everyone in our neighborhood knew he was a little bit troubled” and recalling several public outbursts, including angry responses to unhappy customers when he worked as a delivery driver. His record includes five traffic violations spread across Maryland, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. The latter was the most serious, leading to his arrest on a misdemeanor for skipping a court appearance after he was cited for failing to properly maintain the brakes on his truck.
A neighbor from Paterson was somewhat suspicious, remarking upon Saipov’s habit of driving empty pickup trucks rented from Home Depot around the block with two unidentified friends as passengers but added he found Saipov to be a “calming influence” and a “peacemaker” during personal encounters with him.
The New York Post quotes the manager of a Paterson supermarket where Saipov frequently shopped, who described him as “rude,” “erratic,” and prone to angry outbursts.
“I feel like he was prejudice[d] to the cashiers – whether they were covered or not in a hijab – he would belittle them. He was talking good English, proper, but he would call the cashiers dumb, uneducated – how they didn’t know how to scan the items,” the manager said, adding the detail that Saipov often tried to underpay for 12-packs of Canada Dry ginger ale.
NJ.com talked to a Paterson neighbor named Slavo Petrov who described Saipov as “unfriendly,” complaining that he “never says good morning and never says good afternoon.” While Petrov called Saipov a regular attendee at the local mosque, a 17-year-old named Omar who visits the mosque five times a day claimed to have never seen Saipov praying there. The mosque has reportedly been under New York Police Department surveillance since 2005, and possibly federal investigation as well, as a possible site for “budding terrorist conspiracies.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the city over this surveillance in 2013, leading to a settlement in March 2017 that agreed “race, religion or ethnicity can no longer be motivating factors in the department’s decision to run surveillance operations.”
A federal law enforcement official told NBC News that Saipov appears to have “self-radicalized” by consuming a large amount of Islamic State propaganda online. Officials in Uzbekistan have also insisted he was radicalized after he emigrated to the United States. The most recent comments from law enforcement officials indicate he was planning his attack for about a year. Saipov reportedly told investigators that an Islamic State propaganda video questioning the killing of Muslims in Iraq inspired his attack.