An Uzbek man who drove a truck down a New York bike path five years ago killing eight people –– five of whom were visiting from Argentina –– was found guilty Thursday of a raft of murder and terrorism charges.
Sayfullo Saipov, 34, drove the rented vehicle down a mile-long stretch of bike path in Manhattan as children and their parents prepared to celebrate Halloween on October 31, 2017.
It was the deadliest attack in New York since the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda hijackings brought down the World Trade Center.
Five of those killed – Ariel Erlij, Hernan Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, and Hernan Ferruchi – were friends from Rosario in Argentina celebrating 30 years since their high school graduation. At least 12 other people were wounded. The attack only ended when police shot Saipov in the abdomen.
Prosecutors have sought the death penalty in the case despite a moratorium on federal executions under Joe Biden's presidency, announced in July 2021 by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Garland has also allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to appeal to the Supreme Court for a reinstatement of the death penalty in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Observers say the examples of Tsarnaev and Saipov suggest that the DOJ is willing to pursue capital punishment for terror offenses.
They also say it may be a way to pressure such suspects to plead guilty in exchange for a life term in prison.
In the United States most executions are carried out by states, not the federal government.
Capital punishment cases are extremely rare in New York, which has abolished the death penalty at the state level.
Former US president Donald Trump's administration carried out a record number of executions after the US government had not carried out any in 17 years.
Starting in July 2020 through the final days of the Trump administration, an unprecedented 13 federal prisoners were executed.
Federal executions were halted after Democrat Biden took office in January 2021.
Prosecutors said Saipov planned his attack for a year and chose Halloween deliberately in a bid to kill as many people as possible.
Saipov claimed to have acted in the name of the Islamic State jihadist group, which described him as one of its "soldiers."