Sayfullo Saipov was found guilty of murder by a federal jury for using a rented truck to fatally strike eight people on a New York City bike path on Halloween Day in 2017.
Jurors deliberated about six hours over two days in the case involving the deadliest terrorist attack New York had seen since 9/11 – which left six foreign tourists and two Americans dead.
The same jury will determine whether Saipov is sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. The vote must be unanimous for the death penalty to be imposed. The penalty phase of the trial is scheduled to begin on February 6.
The trial was the first federal death penalty case heard during the administration of President Joe Biden, who had campaigned against capital punishment at the federal level.
Jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon after Judge Vernon Broderick read them instructions.
Saipov had pleaded not guilty.
He was convicted Thursday in the Southern District of New York of counts of murder in aid of racketeering activity, assault with a dangerous weapon and attempted murder in aid of racketeering activity, attempted murder in aid of racketeering activity, provision of material support to ISIS, and violence and destruction of a motor vehicle.
In closing arguments, defense attorney David Patton did not dispute the facts of the attack Saipov is accused of committing. But the defense disputed the prosecution’s claim that Saipov was motivated to commit the attack to gain entry to ISIS. Patton argued that the attack was spurred by religious fervor to please his God and “ascend to paradise” in his religion.
Prosecutors told jurors that Saipov carried out the attack to become a member of the terrorist group.
“People who ISIS relies upon to conquer territory and kill non-believers, those are its soldiers. Of course they are part of ISIS. That is common sense,” prosecutor Amanda Leigh Houle said. “An organization engaged in a worldwide war needs its soldiers and its soldiers are part of the group.”
The charges stemmed from the 2017 attack in which Saipov drove a U-Haul truck into cyclists and pedestrians on Manhattan’s West Side bike path. He then crashed the vehicle into a school bus and left the truck while brandishing a pellet gun and paintball gun, authorities said at the time. He was shot by an NYPD officer and taken into custody, officials said.
Investigators said Saipov told them he planned the attack for about a year and was inspired by ISIS videos, according to a criminal complaint.
Saipov became radicalized by consuming extremist content during lengthy solo stints as a long-haul truck driver, his attorney said.
He grew up culturally Muslim in Uzbekistan but was not exposed to any significant amount of religious study, and his family members are not ISIS supporters, Patton said.
Saipov came to the United States from Uzbekistan in 2010 and was living in New Jersey before the attack. He lived with his wife and three children and drove for Uber, according to officials.
Saipov came to the US on a diversity immigrant visa, which allows people from countries with low recent immigration to apply for a visa and green card, according to the Department of Homeland Security. He later became a legal permanent resident, officials said.
Of the eight people killed in the attack, five were from Argentina, two were Americans, and one was from Belgium, police said.
The Argentinians were part of a group celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation in New York City.
Argentina’s Foreign Affairs Ministry identified them as Hernán Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damián Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernán Ferruchi.
Nicholas Cleves, 23, from New York, and Darren Drake, 32, from New Milford, New Jersey, were the two Americans killed.
Ann-Laure Decadt, a 31-year-old Belgian woman, was also among those killed, according to a statement from her husband, Alexander Naessens. Decadt, a mother of two young sons, was on a trip to New York with her two sisters and her mother, Naessens said after the attack.
CNN’s Mallika Kallingal contributed to this report