The man accused of plowing a rental truck into people on a riverfront bike path in Lower Manhattan had been renting the truck, or a similar truck, for weeks before the rampage and was frequently seen driving off in it with two friends, neighbors say.
The two neighbors said they had little interaction with the 29-year-old suspect, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, or the two other men, but that they’d seen them in front of Saipov’s home on their phones or in gym clothes “stretching and flexing in front of the house.”
Neighbor Carlos Batista, 23, says he saw Saipov cruising around in the Home Depot rental truck with the two friends “every day, every other day” for the past three weeks. He estimates they rode in it four or five times in that time period, usually in the afternoon.
“I did find it a little suspicious. You know, you got a truck box vehicle and you’re not doing anything with it,” Batista said. “You come back, same clothes, not even dirty or anything – it’s a little weird.”
Batista's brother, Angel Batista, said the number of men with Saipov would fluctuate between two and four. The brothers say they sometimes saw Saipov and the men in a minivan Saipov apparently owned.
On a night about six months ago, Carlos Batista had an altercation with Saipov’s friends over noise from a dirt bike Batista was riding. It was Saipov, he says, who came out and broke up the fight.
“He was the peacemaker,” Batista said.
The last time Batista says he thinks the last time he saw the two men was on Monday.
It's unclear if authorities have spoken with the two friends. Federal agents have been interviewing Saipov's wife and an acquaintance of Saipov's, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov. The two of them have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Batista said Saipov told him he had a wife, but that he never saw her. "He was with the two guys most of the time," Batista said.
Authorities say Saipov rented the truck used in Tuesday's attack from a Home Depot in Passaic about an hour before the rampage. Although he was to rent it for 75 minutes, authorities say he had no intention of returning it — instead, they say, he sped to Manhattan and barreled through the busy bike path for about 14 blocks, killing eight people and injuring a dozen more.
Saipov, who was shot by police, entered court in a wheelchair Wednesday to face terrorism charges. He did not enter a plea. His attorney David Patton said they were not seeking bail.