TSC IntelBrief: Terror in New York
Bottom Line Up Front
• On October 31, a man identified as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year old Uzbeki U.S. permanent resident, drove a rented truck down a pedestrian path in lower Manhattan, killing at least 8 people and injuring 11 in an apparent terrorist attack.
• Saipov emerged from the truck waving pellet and paintball guns and was shot in the abdomen by police and taken to a hospital, in critical condition
• The FBI is treating the attack as a terrorist case, the latest using vehicles to run over pedestrians.
• These horrifyingly simple attacks are examples of the weaponization of everyday life, where commonplace tools become weapons and city streets and public events, targets.
Terrorism returned to lower Manhattan on October 31, when 29-year old Sayfullo Saipov drove a rented truck along a crowded popular bike path adjacent to the West Side Highway. At least eight people were murdered and eleven more injured, including two children and two adults aboard a bus transporting students with special needs. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is treating the incident as a terrorist act, given the intentional nature of the attack, similar to several recent attacks inspired by the so-called Islamic State. Police also found notes in Arabic near the truck, claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, and witnesses stated that the driver got out of the truck and began yelling ‘allahu akbar’, or ‘God is great’ after hitting the school bus.
While such attacks have been a persistent threat in Israel since 2001, it is only in the last several years that the use of large trucks and other vehicles to target pedestrians has become a hallmark of modern transnational terrorism. The idea was first publicized by Inspire, the English-language online magazine published by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP.) The Islamic State has also repeatedly called for such attacks, exhorting its supporters to strike out in any fashion, in any location, and at any time possible; its leaders have specifically called for followers to use cars to run people down. The worst of these incidents to date came on July 14, 2016, with a truck attack along a seaside promenade in Nice, France. The driver killed 86 people and wounded over 400 before being killed by police. The promenade was packed with people celebrating Bastille Day, the national day in France. Another attack on December 19, 2016, saw a man drive a truck into an outdoor Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, killing 12 people and wounding 56 more. Outdoor Christmas markets and stalls are among the most popular German traditions, as are Bastille Day celebrations in France. The attacks were aimed at the heart of these much-loved events; both actual and symbolic.
Besides the actual terror engendered by these incidents, this style of attack, where a banal and common facet of city living becomes a weapon of mass destruction leaves behind traces of residual terror from the weaponization of everyday life. New York City is rightfully thought of as a bustling massive metropolis; for residents, it is beloved for its neighborhoods, parks and promenades that help make the city unique. Attacks like these that target everyday life are statistically quite rare. But the lingering fear they leave is very real and can understandably cast shadows, over even the most innocent aspects of city life, for a time.
The specific location of this attack, so close to the World Trade Center area, may well be intentional. In February 1993, Ramzi Yousef loaded a 1,500-pound bomb into a rented van and tried to topple one of the Twin Towers, killing six people, injuring more than 1,000, and putting a bullseye on the complex. On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda succeeded in toppling both towers; killing almost 3,000 people in attacks that also saw a jetliner strike the Pentagon and the destruction of United Airlines Flight 93. The street adjacent to the bike path attacked in this latest incident, the West Side Highway, was filled with people fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers on that date in 2001. Lower Manhattan’s rebuilding and recovery, following the loss of the World Trade Center, has been lengthy but remarkably successful. Manhattan remains an iconic symbol of America, the thriving and successful heart of a diverse, multi-cultural city whose values stand in direct opposition to the twisted vision of narrow-minded violent men.
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