President Donald Trump doubled down on his demand that the death penalty be imposed on the man suspected of killing eight people in a terror attack in New York, after prosecutors offered the clearest outline yet of Sayfullo Saipov’s state of mind.
Mr Trump on Thursday rowed back from his suggestion that the 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant be sent to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay but again risked imperilling the prosecution by demanding his execution even before any evidence has been presented in court.
“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantánamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”
Saipov made his first appearance in court on Wednesday afternoon. He was brought from hospital where he is being treated for gunshot wounds.
The court in Lower Manhattan is only a few blocks from where he is accused of driving a rented pickup through a crowd of cyclists.
He wore a grey tracksuit and sat quietly in a wheelchair. His hands and feet were shackled as he was charged with providing material support to ISIL and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle causing death.
Prosecutors filed a 10-page criminal complaint offering extraordinary insight into his methods and motivations. Investigating officers said Saipov waived his right to silence from his hospital bed and appeared unapologetic about his actions.
"During the interview with law enforcement, Saipov requested to display ISIL's flag in his hospital room and stated that he felt good about what he had done," reads the complaint.
FBI agents found about 90 videos on his cell phone, including footage of ISIL fighters killing prisoners, and thousands of pieces of extremist propaganda.
Saipov told officers he began planning his attack two months ago after being inspired by a speech given by ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he questioned whether Muslims in America were doing enough in response to the deaths of Muslims in Iraq.
The Uzbek rented a truck on October 22 so he could practice driving the vehicle but selected the night of Halloween for his attack knowing there would be bigger crowds on the street.
His initial plan was to follow the West Side Highway as far south as possible before proceeding to the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Saipov wanted to kill as many people as he could," reads the complaint. "Saipov wanted to display ISIL flags in the front and the back of the attack, but decided against it because he did not want to draw attention to himself."
In the event he was stopped when he crashed into a school bus. He leapt from the vehicle shouting "Alahu Akbar" but was unable to reach a bag of knives he brought with him.
Five Argentine tourists, a Belgian, a New Yorker and a New Jersey man were killed in the attack, New York’s deadliest since 9/11.
Saipov entered no plea during his court appearance and faces the death penalty if found guilty.
Lawyers warned that Mr Trump’s intervention in the case risked impeding the prosecution, allowing the defence to argue his words tainted the jury pool.
“Mr President, we all know he should get the death penalty,” Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor in New York, wrote on Twitter. “But when *you* say it, it makes it harder for [Department of Justice] to make that happen.”
Mr Trump has already set off one political storm by announcing he wanted to end the green card lottery, the route Saipov used to gain permanent residence in the US.
People who knew the married father-of-three said they had no inkling that he could be capable of terrorism.
Mirrakhmat Muminov, another Uzbek immigrant, described him as a hothead rather than a radical, who could provoke an argument about a picnic as easily as over the situation in the Middle East.
"He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody," said Mr Muminov, who knew Saipov soon after he arrived in the US and lived in Ohio. "He was not happy with his life."
So far authorities say they believe Saipov acted alone. However, the FBI said it was questioning a second Uzbek man, Mukammadzoir Kadirov, 32.The FBI gave no details about why.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that there was no evidence of associated plots, comparing Saipov to other "lone wolf" attackers.
Saipov faces the possibility of execution because he was charged under federal law; had he been charged in a state court he would not have faced this risk as New York state laws do not allow for execution.