US President Donald Trump on Wednesday implied that Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer bears some responsibility for a deadly car-ramming attack in New York because the perpetrator may have gained entry to the United States through a visa lottery program that Schumer championed in the past.
Eight people were killed and 11 were seriously injured in the broad-daylight assault the day before. Officials who were not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity identified the slight, bearded attacker as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old who came to the US legally in 2010.
Saipov drove a rented pickup truck along a bike route in Manhattan, mowing down pedestrians and cyclists in his path. He was shot by an officer in the abdomen and taken into custody.
In a series of tweets, the US president vowed to further tighten immigration controls.
“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,'” Trump wrote. “A Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.”
Officials haven’t said whether Saipov came in through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which covers immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the US.
According to a report from the Washington Post, extreme-right supporters were quick to associate the immigration program with the attack.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, is an annual draw that offers 50,000 permanent resident visas in the US with the aim of diversifying immigrant populations. Schumer sponsored legislation for the program, which held its first draw in 1995.
“I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!” the president tweeted. “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”
The truck driver struck just blocks from the 9/11 Memorial, on the West Side of Lower Manhattan, and close to schools and a park, at 3:05 p.m. as children and their parents geared up to celebrate Halloween.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered condolences in a message he sent Wednesday to the US leader, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“We stand beside our friends in New York after another terrible attack of Islamic terror,” Netanyahu wrote. “Our prayers are for the families of the victim. Together we will defeat the scourge of terror.”
The president of Uzbekistan offered to help US authorities in the investigation of the attack.
“Uzbekistan is ready to use all forces and resources to help in the investigation of this act of terror,” President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said, offering condolences to Trump in a statement on the foreign ministry’s website.
Mirziyoyev’s statement did not officially confirm the identity or nationality of the attacker.
“We condemn any forms and manifestations of extremism and terrorism,” he said. “This merciless and very cruel crime cannot have any justification.”
France’s prime minister said the attack is a reminder that the threat is high everywhere, and that authorities must remain “as humble as we are determined” to fight extremism.
After checking security measures at the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the Manhattan attack shows that “the means used by those who want to hurt us can be of formidable effectiveness, and formidable simplicity.”
Philippe said ordinary people should remain vigilant and not forget “that the threat level is high, and it is high everywhere in the world.” He said authorities should give “credible responses” and focus on intelligence as well as security barriers like those installed around France after multiple deadly attacks.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the truck attack, referring to it as a “terrorist” assault, according to a report from the semi-official Fars news agency. It quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.
Ghasemi said in a statement that “a serious approach coinciding with honesty and transparency of all nations” is the only way to “uproot” terrorism. He also expressed sympathy for the relatives of the “innocent” victims of the attack.
Tensions are high between Iran and the US as Trump recently refused to recertify the nuclear deal Tehran struck with world powers.
The German government said a German citizen was among the injured in the attack. The Foreign Ministry didn’t identify the female German citizen or give any details about the severity of her injuries in a note on its website Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia strongly condemned the attack and offered its condolences to the families of the victims. The kingdom reiterated its “rejection and condemnation of such terrorist acts.”
Other Gulf allies issued similar statements.
Kuwait’s ruling emir sent a cable to Trump expressing his condolences. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, meanwhile, issued statements supporting efforts and measures taken by the US to combat terrorism and enhance security.
Earlier, Qatar said it, too, offers its “full solidarity with the US government and its support for all measures taken to maintain security.”
Belgium Foreign Minister Didier Reynders tweeted that a Belgian citizen was among the victims.
“I am deeply saddened to announce a Belgian victim in Manhattan — I express my condolences to the family and friends,” wrote Reynders, who is also deputy prime minister. “My thoughts are with the victims of the attack in New York.”
Uzbekistan, a poor majority-Muslim former Soviet state in Central Asia, has become a source of recruits for the Islamic State and other militant jihadist groups, along with other Central Asian countries.
The International Crisis Group estimated this year that between 2,000 and 4,000 militants from Central Asia may have signed up under the banner of IS.