New York: A man in a rented pickup truck drove onto a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Centre memorial today, killing at least eight people and injuring several others in what the mayor called “a particularly cowardly act of terror.”
The 29-year-old driver was shot by police after jumping out of the truck with what turned out to be a fake gun in each hand, officials said. He was taken into custody. His condition was not immediately disclosed.
Witnesses described a scene of panic and blood, with people screaming in fear and the path strewn with bodies and mangled bicycles.
Cities around the globe have been on alert against attacks by extremists in vehicles. The Islamic State has been encouraging its followers to mow down people, and Britain, France and Germany have all seen deadly vehicle attacks in recent months and years.
Police said the vehicle, a rented Home Depot truck, entered the bike path on West Street a few blocks from the new World Trade Centre and mowed down several people. The truck also slammed into a small yellow school bus, injuring two adults and two children.
A paintball gun and a pellet gun were found at the scene, police said.
“This was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
At least two bodies could be seen lying on the path beneath tarps, and the front end of the pickup was smashed in.
Tom Gay, a school photographer, was on Warren Street and heard people saying there was an accident. He went down to West Street and a woman came around the corner shouting, “He has a gun! He has a gun!”
Gay said he stuck his head around the corner and saw a slender man in a blue track suit running southbound on West Street holding a gun. He said there was a heavyset man pursuing him.
He said he heard five or six shots and the man in the tracksuit fell to the ground, gun still raised in the air. He said a man came over and kicked the gun out of his hand.
The attack closed roads across the western edge of Manhattan along the Hudson River and sent uniformed officers rushing to the neighbourhood as people prepared for Halloween festivities, including an annual parade through Greenwich Village.
Eugene Duffy, 43, a chef at a waterfront restaurant, said he was crossing West Street when he heard something, turned back and saw the white pickup on the bike path.
After seeing the mangled bikes, he ran south, seeing the school bus that appeared to have been T-boned, and officers at the scene, guns drawn, ducked behind patrol cars.
“So many police came and they didn’t know what was happening,” Duffy said. “People were screaming. Females were screaming at the top of their lungs.”
Uber driver Chen Yi said he saw a truck plow into people on a popular bike path adjacent to the West Side Highway. He said he then heard seven to eight shots and then police pointing a gun at a man kneeling on the pavement.
“I saw a lot of blood over there. A lot of people on the ground,” Yi said.
Video footage of the school bus showed its right side bashed in, and firefighters surrounding it as they worked to free children inside.
The White House said President Donald Trump was briefed on the attack.