Terror trial over 2017 New York truck attack begins
An Uzbek man has gone on trial in New York on a raft of terrorism and murder charges today for the killing of eight people in a truck rampage over five years ago.
Sayfullo Saipov allegedly drove the rented vehicle down a mile-long stretch of bike path in Manhattan as children and their parents prepared to celebrate Halloween on 31 October 2017.
It was the deadliest attack in New York since the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre.
Five of those killed were friends from Argentina celebrating 30 years since their high school graduation. At least 12 other people were wounded. The attack only ended when police shot Mr Saipov in the abdomen.
The proceedings mark the first federal trial under Joe Biden’s presidency in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, according to US media.
That is despite Mr Biden’s opposition to capital punishment and a moratorium on federal executions, announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland in July 2021.
Mr Garland also allowed his Justice Department (DoJ) to appeal to the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty in the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Observers say the examples of Tsarnaev and Mr Saipov suggest that the DoJ is willing to pursue capital punishment for terror offences.
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.
And capital punishment cases are extremely rare in New York, which has abolished the death penalty at the state level.
Former 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 say Mr Saipov planned his attack for a year and chose Halloween deliberately in a bid to kill as many people as possible.
Mr Saipov has claimed to have acted in the name of the Islamic State jihadist group, which described him as one of its “soldiers”.
The trial is expected to last three months.