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Truck attack suspect is charged with terrorism offenses

NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors brought terrorism charges Wednesday against the Uzbek immigrant accused in the truck rampage that left eight people dead, saying he carried out the attack in response to the Islamic State group’s online calls to action.

Meanwhile, the FBI said another person is wanted for questioning in connection with the bloodshed.

Authorities said the driver of the rented Home Depot truck, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, watched ISIS videos on his cellphone and picked Halloween for the attack on a bike lane in lower Manhattan because he knew more people would be out on the streets.

Afterward, as he lay wounded in the hospital, he asked to display the ISIS flag in his room and “stated that he felt good about what he had done,” prosecutors said in court papers.

He was charged with providing material support to a terrorist group and committing violence and destruction of motor vehicles.

Saipov left behind knives and a note, handwritten in Arabic, that included Islamic religious references and said “it will endure” — a phrase that commonly refers to ISIS, FBI agent Amber Tyree said in court papers.

Questioned in his hospital bed, Saipov said he had been inspired by ISIS videos and began plotting an attack about a year ago, deciding to use a truck about two months ago, Tyree said. Saipov even rented a truck on Oct. 22 to practice making turns, Tyree said.

John Miller, deputy New York police commissioner for intelligence, said Saipov “appears to have followed, almost exactly to a T, the instructions that ISIS has put out.”

In the past few years, the Islamic State has exhorted followers online to use vehicles, knives or other close-at-hand means of killing people in their home countries. England, France and Germany have all seen deadly vehicle attacks since mid-2016.

A November 2016 issue of the group’s online magazine detailed features that an attack truck or van should have, suggested renting such a vehicle and recommended targeting crowded streets and outdoor gatherings, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a militant-monitoring agency.

Carlos Batista, a neighbor of Saipov’s in Paterson, New Jersey, said he had seen the suspect and two friends using the same model of rented truck several times in the past three weeks.

It was not clear whether Saipov had been on authorities’ radar. Miller said Saipov had never been the subject of a criminal investigation but appears to have links to people who have been investigated.

In Tuesday’s attack, Saipov drove his speeding truck for nearly a mile along a bike path, running down cyclists and pedestrians, then crashed into a school bus, authorities said. He was shot in the abdomen after he jumped out of the vehicle brandishing two air guns, one in each hand, and yelling “God is great!” in Arabic, they said.

In addition to those killed, 12 people were injured.

The aftermath took a political turn Wednesday when President Donald Trump slammed the visa lottery program that Saipov used to come to the U.S. in 2010. Trump called the program “a Chuck Schumer beauty,” a reference to the Senate’s top Democrat.

The program dates to 1990, when Republican President George H.W. Bush signed it as part of a bipartisan immigration bill. Trump called on Congress to eliminate it, saying, “We have to get much tougher, much smarter and less politically correct.”

Schumer, who represents New York, said in a statement that he has always believed that immigration “is good for America,” and he accused the president of “politicizing and dividing” the country.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saipov appeared to have acted alone after becoming radicalized while in the U.S.

Assailants in a number of other recent extremist attacks around the world were found to have been “lone wolves” — inspired but not actually directed by the Islamic State. In some cases, they never even made contact with the group.

On the morning after the bloodshed, city leaders vowed New York would not be intimidated, and they commended New Yorkers for going ahead with Halloween festivities on Tuesday night.

They also said Sunday’s New York City Marathon, with 50,000 participants and some 2 million spectators anticipated, will go on as scheduled.

“We will not be cowed. We will not be thrown off by anything,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

While the mayor said there have been no credible threats of any additional attacks, police said they were adding more sniper teams, bomb-sniffing dogs, helicopters, sand-truck barricades and other security measures along the marathon route, in the subways and at other sites.

The attack killed five people from Argentina, one from Belgium and two Americans, authorities said. Nine people remained hospitalized in serious or critical condition, with injuries that included lost limbs and wounds to the head, chest and neck.

A roughly two-mile stretch of highway in lower Manhattan was closed for much of the day for the investigation. Authorities also converged on Saipov’s New Jersey apartment building and a van in a parking lot at a New Jersey Home Depot.

Runners and cyclists who use the popular bike path were diverted from the crime scene by officers at barricades.

“It’s the messed-up world we live in these days,” said Dave Hartie, 57, who works in finance and rides his bike along the path every morning. “Part of me is surprised it doesn’t happen more often.”

The slight, bearded Saipov is a legal, permanent U.S. resident. He lived in Ohio and Florida before moving to New Jersey around June, authorities said.

Birth records show he and his wife had two daughters in Ohio, and a neighbor in New Jersey said they recently had a baby boy.

Saipov was a commercial truck driver in Ohio. More recently, he was an Uber driver.

In Ohio, Saipov was an argumentative young man whose career was falling apart and who was “not happy with his life,” said Mirrakhmat Muminov, a fellow truck driver from heavily Muslim Uzbekistan.

Saipov lost his insurance on his truck after his rates shot up because of a few traffic tickets, and companies stopped hiring him, said Muminov, 38, of Stow, Ohio. Muminov said he heard from Saipov’s friends that Saipov’s truck engine blew a few months ago in New Jersey.

Muminov said Saipov would get into arguments with friends and family, tangling over even small things, such as going to a picnic with the Uzbek community.

“He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody,” Muminov said.

He said he and Saipov would sometimes argue about politics and world affairs, including Israel and Palestine. He said Saipov never spoke about ISIS, but he could tell his friend held radical views.


Don Lehman file photo, dlehman@poststar.com  

Photographs of Jaliek Rainwalker are displayed during a press conference in December 2012 in Greenwich announcing Rainwalker’s case had been reclassified as a homicide investigation. It has now been 10 years since Jaliek went missing.


Local
Search for Jaliek continues 10 years later, with prosecution urged

GREENWICH — Ten years ago Wednesday, Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell responded to a call about a runaway 12-year-old in the village of Greenwich, thinking it would end quickly with the child’s return, as most runaway cases do.

“I thought at the time, ‘He’s a runaway, he’ll be home by Sunday,’” Bell recalled of the day Jaliek Rainwalker was reported missing. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think 10 years later we would still be trying to locate a missing child.”

Within hours of the report, however, police suspected that the disappearance of Rainwalker was not a simple runaway case.

Police suspicions that Rainwalker had not left of his own volition spawned a massive investigation that involved the FBI, State Police Major Crimes Unit, National Center for Missing Children and state Department of Environmental Conservation, which continues today.

But despite countless hours put into the investigation, answers as to what became of Rainwalker remain elusive.

One former police investigator who was involved with the case said Wednesday, however, he thinks prosecutors should “take a shot” with a prosecution of the man suspected in Rainwalker’s disappearance.

“There is enough evidence there for a winnable case,” former State Police Senior Investigator Thomas Aiken said.

Rainwalker’s adoptive parents have said they believe he ran away to start a new life elsewhere. Police, though, classified the case as a suspected homicide in 2012, when no clues as to what became of Rainwalker had been found.

Police have labeled the boy’s adoptive father, Stephen Kerr, as a “person of interest” in the case, saying he gave conflicting information about his actions the night before Rainwalker was reported missing. In particular, a van that was believed to have been his was seen on a business surveillance camera that night at a time when Kerr said he was home, and cell phone triangulation information seemed to indicate his phone was not in Greenwich that night either, police said.

Kerr was the only person in the Hill Street home with Rainwalker that last night. He told police he awoke to find Rainwalker gone from the home, with an apology note left behind. Kerr refused to take a polygraph test, hired a lawyer and he and his wife stopped cooperating with police within days of the missing person report. The Kerrs moved from Greenwich to West Rupert, Vermont as the inquiry continued.

A $25,000 reward the family offered for information on their son’s whereabouts was never paid.

The Kerrs’ lawyer, Jeffrey McMorris, said his clients have not heard anything new about their son, either.

“They (parents Kerr and Jocelyn McDonald) are of the belief he is still out there,” McMorris said.

Aiken said he does not believe Rainwalker’s body will be found, but that murder and first-degree kidnapping convictions could still be obtained if the case was prosecuted correctly.

“I think they should take a shot now,” he said. “There is a lot more there that you (the media) haven’t been told about.”

Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan has said his office has met with police periodically to go over the case. He said a prosecution based on circumstantial evidence is difficult, and there are concerns about potential legal “double jeopardy” if a prosecution was unsuccessful.

“We have had meetings and discussed it,” Jordan said. “But when you go once, you don’t get to go a second time.”

He pointed out that police in the region have had success recently with “cold” homicide cases, including one solved last month in Schenectady.

Bell said there have been no new leads since last spring, when a piece of a human skull was found near the Hudson River in Coxsackie. Tests determined it was not from Rainwalker, though.

“That’s the last time we had a Jaliek-related lead,” Bell said.

There have been periodic searches of the area, and of the Batten Kill and Hudson River, as leads have developed in recent years.

Jaliek’s adoptive grandmother, Barbara Reeley, appealed to the public this week for help in finally closing the case and allowing Rainwalker’s loved ones to finally figure out what happened to him.

“That a child is missing for one day and night is agony,” Reeley wrote in a letter to media. “To endure 10 years of not knowing where Jaliek is has been unbearable.”

Reeley said that she believes her grandson was the “victim of foul play,” but she prefers to think of the happy times with him.

“What we do have is our memories of Jaliek as a bright and caring boy,” she said. “His childhood had a rocky and traumatic start and an unresolved end. In between, I have a little over five years of almost exclusively happy memories.”

“Jaliek is thought of each day with love, joy ... and sorrow,” she added. “One day, there will be justice for Jaliek.”

Anyone with information in the case was asked to call police at 518-677-3044, and Reeley said those wishing to talk to her can email her at claywoman@gmail.com.


Rainwalker disappearance reported in Post-Star on Nov. 5, 2007


Local
Skidmore College graduate killed in New York City terrorism attack

Skidmore College lost one of its own graduates in Tuesday’s terrorist truck attack in New York City.

Nicholas Cleves, 23, graduated from Skidmore last year and was living in New York City, working as a software engineer, analyst and web developer, according to a news release from the college.

Cleves was one of eight who was killed in the attack.

Cleves was a computer science major and physics minor, and studied Italian. He also worked as an IT help desk assistant and astronomy tutor.

“Our hearts go out to Nicholas’s mother, Monica Missio, who is a member of the Skidmore class of 1981, the other members of his family, and his closest friends,” according to a news release from Skidmore College President Philip A. Glotzbach’s office.

“An incident of terrorism that takes the lives of innocent people anywhere in the world touches each of us in our fundamental humanity. But the effect is more pronounced — and far more personal — when our community is directly linked to such a horrendous event.”

For anyone who needs support, counseling services may be reached at 518-580-5555.


Local
Former school bus driver pleads guilty in child sex sting

QUEENSBURY — A former school bus driver who was ensnared in an undercover police sting that offered sex with an underage teen pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony sex count.

Frank L. Gunther, 61, of Mechanicville, pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree criminal sexual act for a June 8 encounter with police who had placed an online classified advertisement that offered a sexual encounter.

When people responded, they were offered an encounter that would include sex with a 14-year-old girl at a Queensbury motel, and 12 men drove to the motel to partake of the offer.

They were met by officers from the FBI, State Police and Warren County Sheriff’s Office instead.

Gunther is the first of the dozen to plead guilty, admitting to Warren County Judge John Hall that he drove to the motel with the intent to have sexual contact with a child under the age of 15.

He agreed to serve an 18-month sentence in state prison, to be followed by 10 years on parole and registration as a sex offender.

Gunther, a hulking man who walked with a limp, drove a school bus for the Mechanicville City School District, according to police, and at least one private bus company in the Capital District. Calls to the school district, including one Wednesday, have not been returned since Gunther’s arrest.

He is free pending sentencing Dec. 6. Neither Gunther nor his lawyer, Allen Yates, would discuss the case after the hearing.

Also appearing in court on Wednesday was Peter J. Fava, 41, of Halifax, Massachusetts, who police said drove from eastern Massachusetts after coming across the police-posted online ad.

Fava, though, rejected a plea deal offer that would have resulted in him receiving a prison sentenced of 18 months to be followed by 10 years on parole.

“He is rejecting that offer,” his lawyer, Mark Juda, responded after Hall outlined the offer.

Warren County First Assistant District Attorney Matthew Burin said his office planned to present Fava’s case to a Warren County grand jury in the coming weeks, in light of the rejection.

Fava is free pending further court action.

Charges are still pending against the 10 other men who were arrested during the sting. They generally face up to four years in state prison, though one faces weightier counts that could bring up to seven years.


Gunther


2 women, 2 decisions: Going public on Harvey Weinstein
2 women, 2 decisions: Going public on Harvey Weinstein

NEW YORK — Day by day, the accusations pile up, as scores of women come forward to say they were victims of Harvey Weinstein. But others with stories to tell have not.

For some of these women who’ve chosen not to go public, the fear of being associated forever with the sordid scandal — and the effects on their careers, and their lives — might be too great. Or they may still be struggling with the lingering effects of their encounters.

Canadian actress Erika Rosenbaum, 37, had just gone public with her own allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein when, about 10 days ago, she received a Facebook message from a young woman, asking if they could speak.

The aspiring filmmaker and actress had listened to Rosenbaum’s recorded interview with The New York Times, in which she described several disturbing incidents in hotel rooms with the producer some 15 years ago. And she wanted to tell Rosenbaum about her own, remarkably similar but much more recent experiences with Weinstein — a series of harrowing hotel-room encounters which, she says, took place just last year, when she was 21.

She told Rosenbaum that she’d developed a relationship with Weinstein, that was really two relationships: “One where he was very much a mentor ... and another that I kept locked inside a secret compartment in my mind where he was manipulating me in a way that I didn’t know how I’d got there, or how to get out.”

“It really was like speaking to myself at that age,” Rosenbaum says.

“I felt like I was talking to an older version of myself,” says the young woman.

She wanted Rosenbaum’s advice: Should she go public with her story? She wanted her experience to serve as a warning for other young women about what can happen in friendships with powerful older men. But she was just beginning her career, and worried about being tainted by association with the scandal. And because the encounters were so recent, she was only beginning to process it all.

Rosenbaum told her that going public was a personal decision, not right for everyone — “If she’s not ready to come forward, she’s not ready.”

The young woman has decided that for now, she is not. “I’m not Gwyneth or Angelina or Lupita,” she says of some of the most famous women who have accused Weinstein. “I think I deserve to build my career without being linked to Harvey Weinstein every time somebody Googles my name.”

___

As any advocate for victims of sexual harassment or assault will tell you, the decision of whether to come forward can be an excruciating one — even when the assailant is not a famous Hollywood figure.

“It is an agonizing decision for everyone,” says Jeanie Kurka Reimer, who’s spent 30 years working in the field of sexual assault in Wisconsin, as an advocate, therapist and consultant. But in a high-profile case like Weinstein’s, she adds, there’s yet another layer of difficulty. “You can’t ever take it back,” she says of the choice to go public. “It’s a life-changing decision.”

Anita Hill, a symbol for many women in the fight against sexual harassment, understands well why a woman, especially at the beginning of her career, would stay silent. “When a person has moved on and become a star, it’s easier for that person to be embraced and not feel the repercussions of speaking out,” says Hill, who was excoriated by many when she famously testified in 1991 that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.

“But when they’re young,” she said in a recent interview, “it’s a big question mark as to how people are going to react. And they still have their lives to think about. There still can be a negative public reaction, even though we say (sexual harassment) is wrong.”

This is why, Hill and others note, many victims accept confidential settlements in sexual harassment cases. And, she notes, only a fraction of cases are even reported at all.

Though Weinstein’s rapid downfall — he was fired by his own company, and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other groups — likely lessens the fear of retaliation, there remains the fear of being stigmatized. It’s a fear expressed even by an established actress like Anabella Sciorra, who alleged in The New Yorker this week that Weinstein had raped her in the early ‘90s.

“Now when I go to a restaurant or to an event, people are going to know that this happened to me,” Sciorra told the magazine. “They’re gonna look at me and they’re gonna know. I’m an intensely private person, and this is the most unprivate thing you can do.”

Attorney Gloria Allred has brought four Weinstein accusers in front of cameras in recent days. But she says others have come to her who aren’t going public, and she’s certain there are many more out there. As Rosenbaum speculates: “I’m sure there are many young women who are too fresh from this experience to speak out. Most of the women we’ve heard from are over 30. There’s got to be a whole slew of young women that aren’t saying anything right now.”

___

Like Rosenbaum, the young woman, who related her story in multiple interviews with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, met Weinstein at a party. It was the spring of 2016. According to her account, Weinstein asked to see a film she’d made and gave her his cell number.

She called, eager for his mentorship. They met three times and simply discussed cinema. “Whatever you want to say, he’s a genius about film,” she says.

But then, after an evening event with Weinstein and others, they ended up back at his hotel, she says. She assumed everyone was meeting for dinner. They had a drink in his suite; still no others arrived. Suddenly, in a scenario that matches that of many accusers, Weinstein made a brief exit and returned naked, the woman alleges. He asked her to strip; she said no, repeatedly, but he kept negotiating. Eventually, the woman alleges, both were naked, and he convinced her to give him a massage and then lie on the bed as he masturbated.

Even before she left the room, she says she was blaming herself. “I’m feeling, ‘I did this,’” she recalls thinking. “’I put myself here, and now I have to clean up my mess.’” But she hoped it was just a one-time thing. And, she stresses, she wanted to keep the mentorship — and what she believed was a friendship — on track.

More meetings followed. Some, but not all, ended up in hotel rooms, she says. The woman says she refused to have intercourse with Weinstein. But she says he persisted in other ways, including pressuring her into oral sex. On three occasions, when she refused to participate in three-way sex, he directed her to watch him engage in activity with the other woman, she says. And what became “the norm,” she says, is that he would pleasure himself behind her as she stood naked in front of a mirror.

The young woman says she felt so debased and ashamed by these encounters that she lied to all her close friends and family, saying everything was above board. After nine months, she finally told her parents what had been happening.

“You’re going to hate me, you’re going to hate me,” she repeated over and over to her mother, according to the accounts of both women, weeping and shaking as they sat in the family car. She recalls even recoiling from her mother’s sympathetic hug, saying “I’m disgusting.”

Soon after, the young woman deleted all texts from Weinstein, she says. The AP has seen written journal entries referring to him, and emails of a non-intimate nature; it has also spoken to family members and her manager, who feel she should stay anonymous, given her young age and fledgling career.

Through a spokesman, Weinstein has consistently denied all allegations of non-consensual sex. (Representatives did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this story.)

The woman finds that questionable. “I said ‘No’ the first few times but then I just did it,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t have an option.” She adds: “I wasn’t sure what he would do if I said no. I had heard he could make someone completely obsolete in a second. I was scared of that.”

___

Rosenbaum, too, was in her early 20s when she met Weinstein. “I was the same age and probably a very similar young woman — a little bit of talent and ambition and brains,” she says.

She too ended up in a hotel room, where she alleges he coaxed her into a massage. She decided complying was the safe way out. “I didn’t want to humiliate the all-powerful Oz,” she told the Times.

The next time Rosenbaum found herself in a hotel room with Weinstein, the producer brought her into a bathroom, where, she alleges, he stood her in front of a mirror, held her by the back of the neck and masturbated behind her. She had one more encounter, in his office, where she says he also made sexual advances.

“He didn’t have a gun to my head, he didn’t wrestle me to the floor,” Rosenbaum told the Times of their meetings, which took place over an extended period. “I just didn’t know how to get out.” After that, she says, “I lied to cover my embarrassment and my shame,” keeping the secret from others.

But when the Weinstein story broke this month, Rosenbaum, who lives in Montreal, was in a far different place than she was 15 years ago. Now a mother of three small children, she says the intervening years had provided needed perspective. “My life is full and balanced in a way it wasn’t when I was young,” she says. “It’s bigger than just work. I see the long game now. That balance gave me the ability to be honest.”

Still, the decision to go public wasn’t simple. “I still very much believed that I could be blackballed as a troublemaker,” she says. Even now, when so many more women have come out, she says she realizes “there may well be people who don’t want to work with me. But there will also be people who do.”

She has been buoyed, she says, by the “sisterhood of women” who have been reaching out to her — some to thank her, others to tell their own stories.

As the young woman did. When they spoke by telephone, Rosenbaum says, one question the younger woman grappled with was how she had allowed herself to get into those unwanted sexual situations with Weinstein.

And then Rosenbaum told her something that she found comforting.

“I told her something about consent, that I did not know at her age,” Rosenbaum says. “I told her that if you’re afraid to say no, then it isn’t consent.”