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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Screams, gunshots ... then eight people lay dying and a new ‘Lone Wolf’ had made his cowardly mark in New York

New York stricken by another terror attack but city vows to stand firm

It was just after three o’clock on a crisp, autumn weekday afternoon. The schools had not yet let out.

The six lanes of Manhattan’s West Side Highway were clear so there was no need for the white pick-up truck to be speeding down the bike lane.

That was the thought that raced through Eugene Duffy’s uncomprehending head as he watched the rental vehicle gather speed. Cyclists and pedestrians had no chance, he said, as they were mown down from behind.

“I kept walking down and when I heard more people screaming across the bridge here I heard gunshots,” he said.

He did not see the truck stop but he heard and saw the aftermath. He counted nine or 10 gunshots before he saw the rented Home Depot pick-up again. Its bonnet was crushed from where it had crashed into a yellow school bus at the junction with Chambers Street.

Mr Duffy, who was on his way home after a shift working as a chef at a restaurant by the Hudson River, said it quickly dawned on him that it could be nothing other than a deliberate attack.

The truck would have needed to have crossed a high curb to have even entered the bike lane.

“This was no road rage,” he said, adding that he later saw tyre-tracks on two bodies in the street.

Other witnesses described how they saw a man leap from the truck, shouting “Allahu Akhbar”, with what looked like firearms in each hand, before he was shot in the abdomen by a police officer stationed nearby.

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Read more:

Eight confirmed dead after vehicle rampage in ‘terror attack’ in Manhattan

What made NYC attacker Sayfullo Saipov kill?

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By the time it was over, at least eight people lay dead or dying in what New York police said was a terrorist attack. Another eleven were injured, including two adults and two students on the bus, according to officials.

Video footage of the scene showed a handful of Citibikes – rented bicycles popular with tourists and commuters – lying mangled on the ground.

James O’Neill, commissioner of the New York Police Department, later confirmed that a 29-year-old man had been taken into custody.

“He did make a statement when he exited the vehicle and if you just look at the [modus operandi] of the attack... that’s consistent with what’s been going on. That along with the statement has enabled us to label this a terrorist attack.”

Both al-Qaeda and Isis have encouraged followers in the West to use whatever they can to launch attacks, turning vehicles into weapons if need be. The tactic has been used to deadly effect this year alone in Barcelona, Stockholm and twice in London.

Law enforcement officials, who were not authorised to speak to the media, named the man in custody as Sayfullo Saipov. Local media described him as a green card-holder who arrived from Uzbekistan in 2010. He was reportedly identified from his Florida driver’s licence and had lived in Tampa Bay at one time.

Cellphone footage showed a man wearing a striped jacket running through a street holding what appeared to be two replica firearms.

Mr O’Neill identified them as a paintball gun and a pellet gun.

He also paid tribute to the actions of the quick-thinking police officer who intervened.

“I want to commend the response of our NYPD officer who was on post near the location who stopped the carnage soon after it began,” he said during a sombre news conference.

Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, said: “This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them.”

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York State, added there was no evidence yet to suggest a wider plot than a single “lone wolf” but promised greater vigilance and a stronger security presence.

“We’re not going to let them win,” he said.

No group has claimed involvement in the attack, although details were quickly being shared on pro-Isil social media channels last night.

President Donald Trump offered his thoughts on Twitter.

“In NYC, looks like another attack by a very sick and deranged person. Law enforcement is following this closely. NOT IN THE U.S.A.!”

“We must not allow Isis to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!”

It was followed later by more measured words for the victims.

“My thoughts, condolences and prayers to the victims and families of the New York City terrorist attack. God and your country are with you,” he wrote.

This city has been through tough times before. The attack happened in the Tribeca area of the city, not far from the site of the 9/11 memorial.

The new Freedom Tower loomed over the area around Chambers Street and Greenwich Street where crowds gathered. Some were parents arriving to collect their children from school while others stopped as they walked home from work.

The attack had seemed like a Halloween park at first to Ruben Cabrera, as he stood outside Borough of Manhattan Community College after a day of classes.

He heard gunshots but heard other students laughing they fled the area. He walked towards the sounds but quickly realised it was real.

“By the time I got over there I saw the pick-up was totalled,” he said in the aftermath. “I saw two people with white sheets over them in the bike lane.”

The attack happened shortly before the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade was due to take place nearby. As police cordoned off the area, revellers in fancy dress passed by. Some wore clown masks. Parents accompanied children – girls dressed as princesses and young boys as spiderman – as they went trick or treating.

John, 18, another student who gave only his first name, said New York, was still a soft target despite its experience of 9/11.

“Look around you,” he said as he gazed around the throng and across the street to a US Marine Corps recruiting centre. “This is the city.

“We don’t know who’s next to us. There could be someone in this crowd who has a bomb.”

Akeem Browder, a fringe candidate in the race to be mayor of New York, offered words of peace as he stopped by the police corden. He urged people not to jump to conclusions about what witnesses thought they heard the attacker shout.

“Students calling me now are saying that’s not what we heard,” he said. “Yes He looks Middle Eastern but let’s not demonise people. Let’s focus on the victims and the help their families need.”