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Central Park may get tighter security, NYC officials say

Burt Herman and his son Eli, 2, of

Burt Herman and his son Eli, 2, of Manhattan, on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, stroll past a memorial along the West Side Highway bike path, where eight people were killed in a terror attack. Credit: John Roca

In the aftermath of this week’s Manhattan terror attack, police are considering tightening security at Central Park and other areas where pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles are close together, officials said Friday.

“Central Park is one we are taking a look at, sure,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill told reporters during his monthly crime briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

O’Neill didn’t elaborate on what measures would be considered for the park, leaving open a question from the media about whether it might be closed to vehicular traffic altogether.

After terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov was charged Wednesday with killing eight pedestrians and cyclists as he drove his truck on the West Side on Halloween, city and state officials scrambled to install concrete barriers and bollards at the location.

DeBlasio said Friday that he had asked the police and the Department of Transportation to assess other areas of New York City to fortify with barriers and to find the resources to install them, not a small job in such a large city.

“There are going to have to be real choices here,” de Blasio said about the need to prioritize locations.

DeBlasio and O’Neill talked about security measures while they reported a drop to record levels of serious crimes, including homicide. Despite the eight deaths in the West Side attack, the city is still on track to record fewer than 300 killings for the first time in the modern era of police record keeping, said Chief Dermot Shea. He noted that the Halloween deaths were part of the October crime statistics. The NYPD started using CompStat, its current computerized system of record keeping, in 1994.

Police records show that the last time the city hit close to 300 homicides was in 1955, at a time when historians say the numbers included cases of vehicular homicides.

Meanwhile, ISIS took responsibility for the West Side terror attack, according to news reports Friday.

The Associated Press reported that a propaganda arm of ISIS called Saipov “a soldier of the caliphate.”

The Washington Post noted that the claim was made in al-Naba, the weekly newspaper of the Islamic State, not through its usual channel for such claims, the Amaq News Agency.

The claim was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The Post said the Islamic State group has an interest in taking credit for attacks carried out by individuals who are self-radicalized.

For example, the group also called Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen “a soldier of the caliphate,” but there is no evidence he was in contact with the group.

Saipov, a legal permanent resident of the United States who came from Uzbekistan in 2010, was “consumed by hate,” picked Halloween for his terrorist attack on a waterfront bicycle path to “kill as many people as he could,” and was proud of what he did, according to officials and a criminal complaint.

He asked authorities whether he could display an ISIS flag in his hospital room after he was shot and wounded by an NYPD officer from Medford — saying he “felt good” about what he had done — and said he had contemplated putting an ISIS flag on the truck used in the attack, the complaint said.

A search of his cellphones showed Saipov had 90 videos of ISIS executions as well as 3,800 images of ISIS propaganda, prosecutors said. He admitted to authorities he was “inspired to commit the act by the ISIS videos that he watched,” Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Manhattan news conference Wednesday.On Friday, President Donald Trump said the United States is “hitting them 10 times harder” — an apparent reference to U.S. military attacks on ISIS in the wake of the Manhattan attack.

“They claimed him as a soldier, good luck,” the president said.

Investigators have said that a friend of Saipov, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, did not play any role in the terror attack, although they had initially described him as a person of interest.

On Thursday, Kadirov released a statement to The Associated Press through a source in touch with his family.

It reads: “It is so sad and unbelievable. This is not from our religion. It is not acceptable. We as Muslims completely reject this kind of actions. No human being who has a heart can do this.”

The person in touch with Kadirov’s family says the two men knew each other only from their days as fellow drivers for the ride-hailing app Uber and were not close friends.

The person — who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation and its sensitive nature — said Kadirov called a community advocacy organization when he realized he knew Saipov.

The person said that the group encouraged Kadirov to cooperate with authorities from his current home in New Jersey, and that the man had done so.

The New York Times said Friday that investigators are increasingly focusing on a wedding in Florida two years ago attended by Saipov.

The Times quoted law enforcement sources as saying it was a possible key to understanding whether he had personal ties to people connected to the Islamic State.

A person at the wedding was under scrutiny by the FBI as part of a terrorism investigation at the time, officials said.

That person was under active FBI investigation and would have been the subject of physical and electronic surveillance, The Times said.

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