Terror attack suspect 'brainwashed', says sister
Mother would have 'brought son home' if she noticed anything wrong with him
The sister of the New York terror attack suspect has pleaded for him not to get the death penalty, claiming he was "brainwashed" and deserved a fair trial.
Umida Saipova spoke with Radio Free Europe (RFE) about her brother, Sayfullo Saipov (29), who is charged with carrying out the deadly truck attack. Authorities say Saipov drove a rented truck through a bike path in lower Manhattan last week, killing eight people and injuring 12 in an Isil-inspired plot.
Ms Saipova told RFE that her family had not noticed any signs of radicalisation in her older brother. She claimed they had a "normal" conversation with him the day before the attack, in which he said he was eating his mother's favourite pastry, and was on his way to pick up a client at the airport. Saipov worked as an Uber driver after legally moving to the US in 2010.
"We don't know who has brainwashed him," Ms Saipova told RFE, from her home in Uzbekistan. "We don't know his circumstances. We don't know. Perhaps he's become part of some organised group."
She added that her 50-year-old mother had visited Saipov in the US earlier that year and seen no sign of radicalisation. "My mother said she would have brought him back to Uzbekistan had she noticed anything," she said.
The family did become worried, however, when they saw him sporting a full beard after his marriage in 2013. Ms Saipova described the family as "terrified" to see her brother adopting the facial hair style of some religious extremists. She said he told the family the beard was an attempt to appear older and to scare off potential muggers.
"I don't know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison," she said of her brother now, "but I'm sure he will come to his senses, God willing."
Isil took responsibility last Thursday for the attack, calling Saipov a "soldier of the caliphate". According to a criminal complaint, Saipov told authorities that Isil videos had inspired his attack. The complaint also alleges he had about 90 videos and 3,800 images on his cell phone featuring Isil propaganda, including video of a beheading. Documents show he wanted to hang the group's flag in his hospital room after the attack.
Saipov has been charged with providing material support to a terrorist group and violence and destruction of motor vehicles. He made a court appearance last Wednesday, but did not enter a plea.
US president Donald Trump called the suspect a "degenerate animal" and added that he "should get death penalty" in a move condemned by several legal experts. Trump also claimed that the US military had hit Isil "much harder" in the days following the attack.
Speaking to RFE, Ms Saipova begged US authorities to give her brother "a bit more time". "We don't think he should be given the death penalty immediately," she said. "We are hoping for a fair trial. We are ready to go there, if it's possible, to talk to him. Please pass my message to Trump, if possible."