Monday, December 18, 2017
Public safety

Tampa neighbors saw no sign of radicalism in man suspected of New York rampage

TAMPA — One neighbor remembered Sayfullo Saipov because he shared dishes from his native Uzbekistan. Another, only that he had a habit of speeding through their apartment complex.

One day after the New York terror attack, residents of the Heritage at Tampa apartments were still trying to reconcile how the neighbor and father who lived in their midst could be the same man who police say mowed down and killed eight people in a rented truck before he was shot by police.

Saipov, 29, was last seen at the northeast Tampa apartment complex off 56th Street north of Sligh Avenue between three and seven months ago after living there for about two years, neighbors said.

The future terror suspect was a soft-spoken man who appeared to be little more than 100 pounds to some. He was friendly to some, distant to others.

"He never said anything bad about this country," Kyong Eagan said. She remembers him giving her lamb. She said he once gave her a case of water after she said she was thirsty. "If I needed water, he’d bring me a river."

Neighbor Melissa Matthews said she saw no sign that Saipov had issues with America.

His kids, Matthews said, "played with other kids behind the buildings." He "didn’t seem to have a problem with them playing with black kids, white kids or Hispanic kids. The kids were kids."

Eagan remembers Saipov and his wife having two children, saying they moved out about seven months ago. Matthews remembers three children, including a newborn, and believes she saw them as recently as three months ago at the apartment complex.

Saipov drove a white minivan at speeds too fast for a residential area, she said. On one occasion, Matthews said, Saipov nearly hit her as she walked.

"My fiance had words with him that day."

Saipov moved out of Heritage at Tampa earlier this year, giving Eagan first pick of his unwanted belongings.

"He gave me electronic devices, HP computer printers, a vacuum, toys, flower pots, shovels," she said.

She donated the items to the Salvation Army long ago, she said, as she told federal investigators who came to her home.

Law enforcement officials in Tampa, Temple Terrace and unincorporated Hillsborough County say they have had no contact with Saipov as a defendant, victim or witness in any matter.

Florida driving records show a trail in Florida dating back to 2010, when he passed a commercial driver’s license road test administered by Metropolitan Trucking & Technical Institute in Miami. His file shows evidence of licenses in Florida, Ohio and New Jersey.

It’s unclear whether Saipov, who reports say was a Muslim, worshiped at the nearby Islamic Society of Tampa Bay on Sligh Avenue.

Hassan Shibly, the executive director of the Florida Council on American Islamic Relations in Tampa, gives sermons at the city’s major mosques. He said Saipov was not well-known in the community and doesn’t represent Muslims any more than he represents residents of Tampa.

"We’re all horrified by the attack," he said. The American-Muslim community, Shibly said, is "first and foremost, American like everyone else. Our first concern is for the victims."

Shibly worries about the possibility of reprisals against Muslims as a result of what he called a double standard that puts religion at the forefront of discussion after some attacks but not others.

When, for example, the attacker is white, as was the case of 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, who shot and killed 58 people in Las Vegas last month, you didn’t see Christian priests being interviewed about the shooter, Shibly said, because everyone recognizes the slaughter as the act of someone who’s deranged.

Reports that Saipov shouted "God is great" in Arabic after the attack do not erase that it’s an act of heresy, Shibly said, any more than saying "God is great" would make it okay for a Muslim to eat pork, which is prohibited by the religion.

Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @Danielson_Times.

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