Defense lawyers for alleged Manhattan bikepath terrorist Sayfullo Saipov on Monday pressed for more information about surveillance prior to his Halloween 2017 attack, claiming that the government engaged in “yearslong” wiretapping of Saipov and two associates and recorded one call the day before his attack.
The existence of surveillance that captured some of Saipov’s communications was first publicly disclosed in December, but in Monday’s filing with Manhattan U.S. District Judge Vincent Broderick his lawyers complained that federal prosecutors have continued to keep too much of it under wraps.
The government surveilled “Saipov and two of his associates for years, recording his conversations with them to gather information about his personal contacts, professional experiences, finances, and potential exposure to ISIS propaganda, violent jihadism, and Islamic extremism,” defense lawyers said.
Saipov, 31, of Paterson, New Jersey, a lawful permanent resident from Uzbekistan, is charged with mowing down pedestrians and cyclists on the West Side, killing eight in an attack he later said was inspired by the Islamic State. He faces the death penalty, and his trial is scheduled for April 13.
Law enforcement sources in December suggested that Saipov may have been picked up on surveillance of others but was not a target of investigators before the 2017 attack. But the new motion raises questions about how much the government knew about him and his radical intentions before the attack.
Defense lawyers told Broderick that they originally believed most of what the government knew about Saipov was the result of his statements and searches of his electronic devices and social media accounts after his arrest.
But recent disclosures, they said, “have altered the defense’s understanding of the government’s investigation, the sources of its evidence, and the circumstances surrounding Mr. Saipov’s purported ‘radicalization,’ ” and could mitigate his culpability in the eyes of jurors who decide whether to execute him.
“If [redacted] or any of Mr. Saipov’s other friends suspected of sympathies to ISIS and or Islamic extremism … influenced Mr. Saipov’s radicalization or spurred him to action, the jury could find that they share moral culpability … and spare Mr. Saipov’s life,” his lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors, according to the motion, says they don’t need to provide details about pre-attack surveillance because they don’t intend to use it as evidence at Saipov’s trial. A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman declined to comment on Monday.
Saipov’s trial was originally scheduled to begin in October. Last week, Broderick postponed it for six months after the defense asked for more time to, among other things, try to overcome State Department resistance to allowing Saipov’s family into the United States to assist in his defense.