A British tourist has recalled his “normal” encounter with New York terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov, who was working in New Jersey as an Uber driver a week before the attack.
Damian Erskine, 34, travelled to the US with his girlfriend to attend a friend’s wedding in New York.
Little did he know the Uber he ordered would be driven by the man who’d later be facing federal terrorism charges for allegedly killing eight people and injuring 11 others with a rented pickup truck on Halloween.
“It was weird because we’d been in a taxi with him for about an hour – the journey to the hotel. So we talked for a long time. You get an idea of a person. He seemed absolutely normal,” Mr Erskine told the BBC.
“We got talking about cars and normal things. He said how he one day wished he could own a Range Rover. He said they were the height of Britishness and luxury.
“He was very polite, he helped us with our bags. I mean, I gave him five stars on Uber, which seems a bit weird now.”
Mr Erskine said when he was the photo of Saipox after the attack he went cold.
“When they broke the photo of the guy I recognised him and it was really weird,” Mr Erskine said.
“It was of those where – it was kind of cliche – where you go cold and you just think, ‘No, it can’t be him’.
“It just makes you feel sick, really, that you’ve had quite an enjoyable conversation with someone who’s just a taxi driver and you’ve just had a chat, as you would, and you’ve shared this time with someone who’s gone on to do something like that, and obviously was planning to do something like that.”
According to reports, Saipov was registered as a driver for Uber for six months prior to the attack, and recorded more than 1400 trips.
However, he had reportedly been banned from driving with Uber, according to CBS News. The service did not specify why he was banned.
In a statement, Uber said it was “horrified by this senseless act of violence” and would look into the suspect’s past trips.
Saipov, 29, migrated to the US from Uzbekistan in 2010.
He was charged on Thursday with providing material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organisation – Islamic State – and violence and destruction of motor vehicles.