U.S. President Donald Trump responded to the worst terrorist attack in New York in 16 years by drawing a direct line between Tuesday's violence and immigration policy even as authorities cautioned that the investigation into the perpetrator remained in its early stages.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it had sought and found a second man for questioning in connection with the attack. Federal prosecutors also filed terrorism charges against Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek immigrant who allegedly killed eight people by driving a speeding truck down a bike path.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted, "There is something appropriate about keeping him [Saipov] in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!"
Earlier, Mr. Trump called Mr. Saipov an "animal" and suggested sending him to the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He urged lawmakers to eliminate the special visa program the suspect used to enter the country and to revamp immigration policy to prevent legal residents from sponsoring family members.
"We have to get much tougher and we have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct," said the President, who had earlier pointed a finger at New York Senator Charles Schumer for his role in helping to start the 22-year old visa program used by Mr. Saipov.
Mr. Trump's statements and tweets represented a remarkable exercise in assigning blame less than 24 hours after the attack. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, called for a sense of unity and a focus on the continuing investigation.
Mr. Cuomo in particular hit back at Mr. Trump. "You play into the hands of terrorists to the extent you disrupt and divide and frighten people in this society," he said at a news conference in New York. "The tone now should be the exact opposite by all officials on all levels. This is about unification, this is about solidarity."
A stretch of Manhattan's West Side Highway remained closed into Wednesday afternoon as investigators continued to comb the area for evidence. Police officials said Mr. Saipov had planned the attack for weeks and rented a truck from a Home Depot in Passaic, N.J. at 2:05 p.m. on Tuesday. Just less than an hour later, the truck turned into a bicycle lane in Tribeca and barrelled southward, striking bicyclists and pedestrians before colliding with a school bus at an intersection.
Those killed included a group of five childhood friends from Argentina, a Belgian mother of two small children, a young software engineer living in New York and a project manager from New Jersey.
Inside the truck, detectives found knives and a cellphone full of Islamic State-related propaganda. There was also a note in Arabic claiming that the "Islamic State would endure forever," said John Miller, a counterterrorism official with the New York Police Department. Mr. Saipov was not a prior target of a local or federal terrorism investigation, Mr. Miller said, but he appears to have ties to an individual who was under scrutiny by authorities. Mr. Saipov, who was shot in the abdomen, is being treated at New York's Bellevue Hospital and is talking to investigators.
With Tuesday's attack, New York became the latest city to grapple with the threat of individuals inspired by the Islamic State using vehicles as weapons, a technique already deployed in Nice, London, Berlin and Edmonton. Such perpetrators "can be deadly even if they're not particularly competent," said Mitchell Silber, a former senior intelligence official with the NYPD.
Mr. Silber said it was remarkable that the city had managed to experience 16 years without a successful terrorist attack. New York authorities say they have disrupted or prevented two dozen terrorist plots since 2001, a track record Mr. Silber attributed to hard work, productive partnerships with law-enforcement agencies around the United States and the globe, and a certain degree of luck.
Early indications suggest that Mr. Saipov became radicalized after arriving in the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010. He entered the country through something known as the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, an initiative that awards 50,000 permanent resident visas a year to people from countries that are underrepresented in immigration to the U.S.
Mr. Trump has long maintained that immigration policies are linked to crime and terrorism. He has made repeated attempts to institute a travel ban on citizens of certain predominantly Muslim countries, arguing that existing vetting procedures are insufficient (Uzbekistan, where Mr. Saipov came from, is not one of the countries involved in Mr. Trump's travel ban.) Courts have blocked the measure, while Democrats and a number of Republicans have condemned it as discriminatory and counterproductive.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump called for swifter and harsher punishment for terrorists, saying that "what we have now is a joke and a laughingstock." Two Republicans who often disagree with Mr. Trump on other matters, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, said they supported the idea of treating Mr. Saipov as an "enemy combatant" who could be detained and tried outside the U.S. legal system.
In lower Manhattan on Wednesday, there were isolated expressions of agreement with Mr. Trump. "Our parents and grandparents came here and they worked for the American dream," said a construction supervisor a block from the site of the attack who declined to give his name. "These people are coming here and killing people."
As people hurried to work or to drop off children at school, conversations about the attack could be overheard everywhere: a nanny pushing a stroller talked to a friend about the attacker; a maintenance worker whose wife is a nurse was telling his colleagues about her experience of treating the wounded.
Cesar Mu, 17, is a student at New York's elite Stuyvesant High School, the spot where the rampage ended on Tuesday afternoon. He was in his physics class on the eighth floor when he heard a crash, screams and a "pop pop pop" sound. He and his classmates sheltered in the classroom for hours until the police said it was safe to leave. The mood at school on Wednesday was a downcast one, he said, with some students wearing black.
"It's surprising that this happened so close to our school," said Mr. Mu. "It's hard to believe."
Just across the West Side Highway, Brianna Dunne, 22, was among a stream of students entering the Borough of Manhattan Community College on Wednesday morning. She said she alternated between feeling fine and feeling frightened. "It can happen again, even with the cops around," she said. "This crazy stuff needs to stop."