President Donald Trump called for the execution of the suspect in the New York City terrorist attack Wednesday after learning that he had asked to hang an ISIS flag in his hospital room.
“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” Trump tweeted.
Trump’s bold prescription could actually hurt prosecutors’ efforts. Presidents typically don’t weigh in on ongoing criminal cases because defense attorneys can then argue that their client has lost his right to a fair trial.
The president has sent conflicting signals on whether he thinks that Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek immigrant accused of plowing through bikers and pedestrians with a rental truck in Manhattan on Halloween, should be tried in the civilian justice system or military system.
On Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred to Saipov as an “enemy combatant,” and the president told reporters that he would “certainly consider” sending him to the infamous US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
But on Thursday morning, Trump seemed to walk back that position somewhat, saying that he thought going through the civilian system would be more efficient.
“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” he tweeted.
Still, the option doesn’t appear to be off the table.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions told attorneys and law enforcement official in Manhattan on Thursday that the Trump administration could use military courts against terrorists.
“Terrorists should know this: this administration will use all lawful tools at our disposal, including prosecution in Article III courts or at Guantanamo Bay,” Sessions said.
He didn’t comment specifically on Saipov’s case, but he effectively endorsed and strengthened the president’s calls for the suspect to be sent there.
Federal prosecutors in New York filed terrorism charges against Saipov on Wednesday night. According to the charges, Saipov waived his Miranda rights and spoke to prosecutors openly about how he conceived of the attack.
The charges claim that Saipov had been planning his attack for about a year, and that he chose to carry it out on Halloween night — when there would be an uptick in the number of pedestrians — to maximize casualties. He had originally intended to drive to the Brooklyn Bridge after mowing down civilians on the West Side Highway, but his rampage was cut short when he smashed into a school bus in Lower Manhattan.
Saipov said he was inspired to commit his murderous act by an ISIS video online that pointed out the killing of Iraqi Muslims, according to the charges.
The complaint said Saipov told investigators that “he felt good about what he had done.” He asked them to display an ISIS flag in his room, and said that he had wanted to put one on the truck he used to ram into pedestrians but then decided it might draw too much attention to himself.
Saipov had roughly 90 videos and 3,800 images of ISIS propaganda on his cellphones, authorities say.
According to the charges, Saipov rented a truck about a week prior to the attack to go on a test run and “practice making turns” in it.
“He appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions that ISIS has put out in its social media channels before with instructions to their followers on how to carry out such an attack,” John Miller, the New York deputy police commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said at a news briefing on Wednesday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that investigators believe Saipov was a lone wolf who was “radicalized domestically” after coming to the United States.
According to officials, Saipov left a note behind in his truck. The message, written in Arabic, read, “The Islamic State [will] endure forever.”