Sayfullo Saipov was convicted of murder by a federal jury for using a rented truck to fatally beat eight people on a New York City bike path on Halloween in 2017.
Jurors deliberated about six hours over two days in the case involving New York’s deadliest terror attack since 9/11 – which left six foreign tourists and two Americans dead.
The same jury will determine whether Saipov is sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. The vote must be unanimous for the death penalty to be imposed. The penalty phase of the trial is due to begin on February 6.
The trial was the first federal death penalty case heard during the administration of President Joe Biden, who had campaigned against capital punishment at the federal level.
Jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon after Judge Vernon Broderick read the instructions to them.
Saipov had pleaded not guilty.
He was found guilty Thursday in the Southern District of New York on counts of murder in aid of racketeering, assault with a dangerous weapon and attempted murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder for the benefit of racketeering activities, providing material support to the Islamic State, and violence and destruction of a motor vehicle.
In his closing arguments, defense attorney David Patton did not dispute the facts of the attack Saipov is accused of carrying out. But the defense disputed the prosecution’s claim that Saipov was motivated to carry out the attack to join ISIS. Patton argued that the attack was spurred on by religious fervor to please his God and “ascend to heaven” in his religion.
Prosecutors told jurors that Saipov carried out the attack to become a member of the terror group.
“The people ISIS relies on to conquer territories and kill non-believers are its soldiers. Of course, they are part of ISIS. It’s common sense,” said prosecutor Amanda Leigh Houle. “An organization engaged in a world war needs its soldiers and its soldiers are part of the group.”
The charges stemmed from the 2017 attack in which Saipov drove a U-Haul truck into cyclists and pedestrians on Manhattan’s West Side bike path. He then crashed the vehicle into a school bus and exited the truck brandishing a pellet gun and a paintball gun, authorities said at the time. He was shot by an NYPD officer and taken into custody, officials said.
Investigators said Saipov told them he had planned the attack for about a year and was inspired by ISIS videos, according to a criminal complaint.
Saipov radicalized himself by consuming extremist content during long solo stints as a long-haul truck driver, his lawyer said.
He grew up culturally Muslim in Uzbekistan but was not exposed to a significant amount of religious study, and his family members are not supporters of ISIS, Patton said.
Saipov came to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010 and was living in New Jersey before the attack. He lived with his wife and three children and drove for Uber, officials said.
Saipov came to the United States on a diversity immigrant visa, which allows people from countries with low recent immigration to apply for a visa and a green card, according to the Department of Homeland Security. He later became a lawful permanent resident, officials said.
Of the eight people killed in the attack, five were from Argentina, two from Americans and one from Belgium, police said.
The Argentinians were part of a group celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation in New York.
The Argentine Foreign Ministry identified them as Hernan Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernan Ferruchi.
Nicholas Cleves, 23, of New York, and Darren Drake, 32, of New Milford, New Jersey, were the two Americans killed.
Ann-Laure Decadt, a 31-year-old Belgian, was also among those killed, according to a statement from her husband, Alexander Naessens. Decadt, a mother of two young sons, was on a trip to New York with her two sisters and mother, Naessens said after the attack.