Wednesday, 22 November 2017

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NYC terror attack: Florida neighbor remembers suspect as quiet, shy

By Ryan Mills,MELISSA MONTOYA and Arek Sarkissian, For TCPalm , On 03 November 2017, Read Original

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TAMPA--Kyong Eagan remembers her former neighbor in a Tampa-area apartment as a small and shy man who enjoyed playing with his two young children.

Sayfullo Saipov would bring her food he cooked, and sometimes juice left over from his truck route. Occasionally she would see large gatherings of Muslim men sitting quietly, almost silent, in his home.

Eagan said she was “very, very traumatized” when she saw Saipov’s photo on TV on Tuesday, accused of the worst terror attack in New York City since the 9/11 attacks. Saipov, 29, is accused of intentionally driving a rental truck down a busy bike path near the World Trade Center, killing eight people.

“I just can’t believe it,” Eagan said. “What I know is totally different than public knows him.”

Eagan said she lived in the Heritage at Tampa apartments off North 56th Street for six years, moving out just a couple of months ago. For about a year, Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, lived next door to her with his wife and two young children.

 

They were friendly toward one another. She brought Saipov’s family Christmas cookies. He gave her food whenever he cooked, and a variety of tropical juices. Saipov’s wife told Eagan that Saipov, a truck driver, regularly had extra juice left over from his trucking route.

They shared the same patio. Eagan said she could regularly see into Saipov’s apartment. She didn’t see anything particularly unusual.

She said Saipov spoke in a whisper.

“I mean, this guy is so shy he couldn’t finish one sentence,” Eagan said. “I mean, he speaks good English. I can barely hear what he’s saying.”

Eagan called Saipov a “very soft and gentle” man who gave his young daughter piggyback rides and played with his baby.

She repeatedly came back to how slight Saipov is.

“You could have knocked him over with a feather,” Eagan said. “He’s a very skinny guy. I don’t think he’s even 100 pounds.” A Florida driver's report lists him as 5 feet, 7 inches tall.

 

Eagan knew Saipov was a Muslim. There’s a mosque nearby, and many Muslim families live in the complex. Saipov’s wife wore a black hijab that covered her face. She was the only woman she saw associated with Saipov who dressed that way, Eagan said.

On occasion, Eagan said she could see gatherings of 20 to 30 Muslim men in Saipov’s apartment. The men, teenagers to older men, were quiet.

“I figure, it's pretty strange,” she said. “Maybe they were praying because there was nobody talking.Earlier this year, Saipov’s wife told Eagan the family was relocating to New Jersey’s for work. They left rather quickly, Eagan said, leaving her with a vacuum cleaner, a mop and other household items. Saipov was carrying imitation firearms when he was shot and arrested Tuesday. Eagan said she never saw him with weapons.

Mohamed Solimon and his wife, Thoria Gafar, live in the Tampa apartment complex where Saipov once lived. Gafar said she spoke to Sayfullo Saipov at least one time between six months and one year ago.

"I've seen him only one time," Gafar said.

She was walking around her Heritage apartment complex exercising when Saipov said hello to her.

Gafar said she wore a headscarf and Saipov recognized her as a Muslim.

"He mentioned the greeting for the Muslims, 'As-salāmu ʿalaykum' and she replied," Solimon said.

Gafar said beyond that she had minimal contact with Saipov.

She spoke to his wife once when the two spoke about where they were from. Solimon and Gafar are from Egypt.

 Saipov's wife said she was from Uzbekistan.

Solimon called Saipov a "ghost."

"It looks to me like a ghost," Solimon said. "He comes and goes. Nobody sees him."

That doesn't surprise Hassan Shibly, the chief executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida.

"Ultimately, he wasn't visible," Shibly said.

A Hillsborough sheriff's deputy kept guard at a mosque near Saipov's home on Wednesday.

The deputy was called after media disturbed the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, which is home to a school for children.

"You were disturbing the kiddies," the deputy said.Calls to the mosque were referred to Shibly and his organization CAIR after a New York Times report identified it as Saipov's place of worship.

But, Shibly said, they had not tracked down whether Saipov was a member.

"Has he gone there? Maybe," Shibly said. "But thousands go there."

At a nearby Halal store, an attendant said he did not recognize Saipov.

"So far, it still appears he wasn't visible in the community," Shibly said. "The truth of the matter is the first thing groups like ISIS try to do with its propaganda material is it tries to isolate people from the mosques and the community because they know if people go to the mosques if they are engaged to the community the mosques actually undermine the corrupt, deviant, blasphemous, violent messages of ISIS so they don't want people engaged."  State records show Saipov twice applied for a Florida commercial driver’s license as he moved to the state from Ohio and New Jersey. He successfully passed the tests required to receive the credential that allows him to drive a tractor trailer, but he faced a brief suspension two years ago for failure to keep proper insurance, according to documents provided by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.  

Saipov’s personal information in the Department of Highway Safety were redacted under the federal Driver Privacy and Protection Act. The law required the agency to block any photographs, Social Security number, driver information number and telephone.

Saipov received his first Florida commercial license on Sept. 23, 2010, after he turned in an Ohio driver’s license and passed a series of tests, which he took at the Metropolitan Trucking and Technical Institute in Miami, documents show. On June 18, 2015, Saipov turned in a New Jersey commercial driver’s license for its equivalent in Florida. He also  surrendered license plates from a trailer.

The Record, a newspaper in Bergen County, New Jersey, reported Saipov’s 2015 application used a home address as an apartment in Florida and a phone number from Cincinnati. His Ohio driver’s license listed a city outside of Akron.

State records also show Saipov’s license was suspended on Sept. 4, 2015 for driving without valid registration or insurance. He had been cited earlier that year in March for operating without required equipment. The state reinstated his license about two weeks later after he took a basic driver improvement course.

This year on March 10, Saipov underwent a physical exam for his Florida driver’s license at a medical center in Newark, New Jersey, just outside of New York City. His license was valid as of Tuesday night, records show.