A bicyclist passes a memorial on West Street two days after a man driving a rented pickup truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path alongside the Hudson River, in New York - REUTERS
NEW YORK - 3 November 2017: The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility, without giving evidence, for a truck attack in New York City earlier this week that killed eight people, the deadliest act of suspected terrorism to strike the city since Sept. 11, 2001.
The accused attacker Sayfullo Saipov, 29, "is one of the caliphate soldiers," the militant group said on Thursday in a weekly issue of its Al-Naba newspaper.
Saipov was charged in federal court on Wednesday with acting in support of Islamic State by plowing the truck down a popular riverside bike trail, injuring a dozen people in addition to those killed.
According to the complaint filed against him, Saipov told investigators he was inspired by watching Islamic State propaganda videos on his cellphone, felt good about what he had done, and asked for permission to display the militant group's flag in his room at Bellevue Hospital.
Saipov was taken to Bellevue after he was shot in the abdomen by a police officer at the time of his arrest.
U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated his call on Thursday for the death penalty against the Uzbek immigrant.
Trump had on Wednesday suggested sending Saipov to the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, where terrorism suspects apprehended overseas are incarcerated, but he said on Thursday doing so would be too complicated.
On Thursday, Trump repeated his call for Congress to end the Diversity Immigrant Visa program under which Saipov entered the United States in 2010.
The diversity program, signed into law in 1990 by Republican President George H.W. Bush, was designed to provide more permanent resident visas to people from countries with low U.S. immigration rates.
One of the two criminal counts Saipov faces, violence and destruction of motor vehicles causing the deaths of eight people, carries the death penalty if the government chooses to seek it, according to acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim.
Five Argentine tourists, a Belgian woman, a New Yorker and a New Jersey man were killed in Tuesday's attack.
The attack unfolded a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, where some 2,600 were killed when suicide hijackers crashed two jetliners into the Twin Towers 16 years ago.
TRUMP URGES DEATH PENALTY
Trump's tweets calling for the death penalty came before Saipov had a chance to enter a plea to the charges.
That could work to the defendant's advantage by giving his lawyers an opportunity to argue that the president prejudiced potential jurors, said James Acker, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York in Albany who specializes in capital punishment.
It could be used to make an argument that a judge should not allow the death penalty as a sentencing option, Acker said, adding that "the likelihood of that succeeding is very small."
Saipov's defense attorney did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Kim, the federal prosecutor, said the filing of charges against Saipov in federal court does not preclude the government from later declaring him an enemy combatant, although legal experts said such a move was highly unlikely.
Declaring an individual an enemy combatant allows investigators to interrogate the person without having a lawyer present.
Experts said it would be highly improbable to send Saipov to Guantanamo because a federal judge would have to agree to turn him over to a military commission, and no person has ever been sent to Guantanamo straight from U.S. soil.
As a permanent legal resident of the United States, Saipov has virtually the same rights as a U.S. citizen, they said.
Saipov waived his right to remain silent or have an attorney present when he agreed to speak to investigators from his bed at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, the criminal complaint said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had located another Uzbek man, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, 32, who wanted for questioning as a person of interest in the attack.