Eight people were killed and numerous others wounded in New York on Tuesday when a suspect rammed a pickup truck into pedestrians in Lower Manhattan, and collided with a school bus in an “act of terror,” officials said.
The suspect exited his rental vehicle holding up two fake guns, before being shot by police and taken into custody. The incident happened around 3:05 pm (1905 GMT) close to schools as children in America’s largest city celebrated Halloween.
Loved ones mourned the first deaths from a terror-linked attack in New York since September 11, 2001.
It was also the city’s first such incident since a pipe bomb explosion in September 2016 in Chelsea, lightly wounding 31 people. An American of Afghan descent, Ahmad Khan Rahimi, was convicted of terrorism over that attack earlier this month.
The city, which has frequently been on high security alert since the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers, is America’s financial and entertainment capital, with a population of 8.5 million.
President Donald Trump decried the 29-year-old attacker, whose name and nationality has not yet been revealed, as “very sick” and a “deranged person.”
New York police chief James O’Neill said that eight people were killed, at least six of whom were men. Eleven people were taken to hospital with serious injuries.
The suspect drove a rented pickup truck from retailer Home Depot southbound down a bike and pedestrian lane, striking people before colliding with a school bus, injuring two adults and two children.
The suspect then stepped out of the vehicle, brandishing two apparent handguns, before being shot in the abdomen by a police officer, police said.
– ‘Horrible tragedy’ –
A paintball gun and pellet gun was recovered at the scene, police said.
“It’s a very painful day in our city. Horrible tragedy,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Let me be clear, based on the information we have at this moment, this was an act of terror and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians, aimed at people going about their lives who had no idea what was about to hit them,” the mayor added.
“We at this moment based on the information we have, we know of eight innocent people who have lost their lives. And over a dozen more injured.”
New York’s Democratic State Governor Andrew Cuomo noted that “New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy.”
“That also makes us a target for those people who oppose those concepts and we’ve lived with this before,” he added.
Police officers and ambulances swamped the area, in front of a park and next to a school as sirens wailed continuously and helicopters roared through the sky.
Worried parents gathered outside a public elementary school that had closed, waiting to see if they could collect children who stayed after the end of the classes for extracurricular lessons and activities.
“I didn’t see the actual shooting, but I got there about 30 seconds after,” said witness John Williams, 22, who was en route to the park. “There was a smell of gunshots.
“There was a man lying on the ground. It looked as he’d been shot,” Williams added.
– ‘Little bit crazy’ –
The last mass casualty incident in New York was on May 18, when a US Navy veteran plowed a car into pedestrians in Times Square, killing an 18-year-old woman from Michigan and injuring 22 other people.
Police patrols in Times Square, one of the world’s busiest districts, had already been beefed up in recent years, following a 2010 car bombing attempt and in the wake of attacks in Europe.
A witness who gave his name only as Frank told local television network NY1 that he saw a man running around an intersection, heard five to six gunshots and saw “about 100 cops” flood into the street.
“I saw he had something in his hand, but I couldn’t tell what it was. But they said that it was a gun, so I was like: ‘Oh my God,'” the witness told NY1.
“When the cops shot him, everybody started running away and it got a little bit crazy right there. So when I tried to look again, the guy was already down.”
It was the most serious security breach in New York since Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani immigrant, plant a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010.
His explosive device failed to detonate and he was arrested shortly after boarding a flight to the Middle East. He pleaded guilty and said he was aiming to avenge deaths from US missiles fired from drones operating over Pakistan.
He was sentenced to life behind bars.