-- Sayfullo Saipov, who has been charged with killing eight people in a vehicle attack on the West Side of Manhattan on Tuesday, was interviewed in 2015 by federal agents about possible ties to suspected terrorists but a case was never opened against him, law enforcement officials tell ABC News.
Saipov was listed as a “point of contact” for two men whose were listed in a Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism database and later overstayed their tourist visas, a federal official told ABC News. One was flagged after arriving from a so-called “threat country,” while the other vanished and was being actively sought by federal agents as a “suspected terrorist.” An official told ABC News that the FBI has since located him and he is not believed to have been involved in Tuesday’s attack.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said that its law enforcement agencies -- Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations -- "did not interview Saipov in 2015."
“The family was normal, modern, wearing tight pants, no scarfs,” she said. “They did not go to the mosque.”
According to a statement released by Uzbekistan's embassy in Washington, Saipov graduated from college, worked as an accountant for a hotel and had no previous criminal record while living in Tashkent.
“Neighbors in makhalla (local community in Uzbekistan) described Saipov quite positively: according to them, he did not provoke any suspicions, always kept a low profile and used to be friendly in relation with others,” the statement reads. “He was brought up in a good family environment. His parents preached traditional Islam and have never been noticed in communications with any extremist groups.”
He entered the United States through a Diversity Visa Program lottery in 2010, making him a legal permanent resident of the United States upon arrival. He has lived in Ohio, Florida and, most recently, Paterson, N.J. with his wife, Nozima, and three children, who were escorted from the residence by the FBI as federal agents and evidence technicians were gathering evidence on Wednesday.
The terror group has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but according to Rita Katz of the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the online activity of jihadist organizations, the attack “fits [the] style” of recent suspected ISIS-inspired attack throughout Europe.
“Amid losses in #Iraq and #Syria, #ISIS has ramped up calls for supporters to perform attacks in the #US, among other Western nations,” Katz wrote in multiple posts on Twitter in the wake of the attack in New York City. “#ISIS media regularly pushes #NYC attacks … #ISIS supporters celebrating #Manhattan attack.”
According to Matthew Olsen, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and an ABC News contributor, the “biggest threat we face right now in this country” isn’t the people who cross our borders but the propaganda.
“The pattern we're seeing now is not people coming here with a plan to carry out an attack,” Olsen said. “It's either people here in the United States, born here as citizens or here as visitors, who have become radicalized by online propaganda from ISIS.”
ABC News’ Ben Gittelson and Patrick Reevell contributed to this report.