11 august 2020

Central Asia news

NYC Halloween terror attack suspect’s relatives express shock, disbelief

07.11.2017 18:38 msk

Andrei Adzhamov

Analytics Politics Religious life Uzbekistan

The last Uzbek address of Saipov was Bel-Tepa Street, Shayhantaur district, Tashkent. He had his registration discontinued in 2011, a year after he left for America. Ferghana News journalists and their Moscow colleagues visited the address early in the morning to see if perhaps one of the neighbours remembered the Saipovs.

It looks like a small community on the outskirts of Tashkent—a standard Soviet block of flats, with a courtyard; children, and adults rushing to school and work. The flat is on the ground floor with a door piercing the balcony to the street, good facing, plastic windows. Someone is in the apartment, but they do not open when the doorbell is pressed or the door knocked on.

It is the neighbour, about 50, who reacts violently. The grey-haired, strong looking man shouts: “Who are you? Where from? Show your passports? I'll call the police!” he says, shaking his fists, but does not dare to fight.

Quiet, polite explanations do not help; a couple of men peeking out of windows, also shout, “Yes, call the policeman!” But no one knows the number; no one can guess and just call the police.

We sit in the car, but the strong looking man does not lag behind, screams at our elderly driver: “Leave them, or give up your number plate to the police!” The driver does not dare to leave or drop us off. Another neighbour, a phlegmatic member of the Makhalla committee (self-governing community body of citizens), lazily says to the rowdy man: “Let the journalists do what they want, what is it to you?”

The driver is already moving.

Photo by Ferghana News

Closer to the evening, the address of the parental home in Makhalla (district, community) of Hondemir in Uchtepa district becomes known. Makhalla is rich, several new buildings that are "gingerbread house" styled, several dusty construction projects. Good cars in front of the houses. Children are playing and girls are spraying water on the cracked asphalt.

The gate of the house of Saipov is tightly closed. The house is new, expensive; even pretentious. There are no windows looking to the street. Nobody opens the door. There is no movement in the house.

Neighbours answer monosyllabically breaking off the conversation. An elderly woman says she barely knows this family. “They left. Yesterday, there were people in the house, they were there and went out. But not the Saipovs.”

There is another woman seen walking from afar with bags, who has difficulty walking. "I'm from the far end of Makhalla, I hardly know them." Learning about what Saipov Jr. did, she becomes frightened and almost falls.

Another neighbour says more: "A good boy, polite, drove up my children to a music school. No beard, no religious conversations." "His leg was pulled in America; such people do not hurt people, they do not kill people. Very sorry for him." "He was going to return home. His mother was there in the summer, she said that he would be coming soon."

House of the Saipovs in the Hondemir makhalla. Photo by Ferghana News

Habibullo, Saipov's father, runs a store in the construction market behind the race course.

There aren’t many people there in the morning, and questions help little: “There is one Habibullo, but I do not know whether he is Saipov,” says the seller. Refers us to the laminate store.

“Yes, Habibullo, no, not Saipov. Look further, in the second row, to the right.”

In the second row, it is the same. We want to meet the bazaar director. Instead, the security chief jumps out, politely inviting us to his office. He asks questions. Nods his head. Offers tea. Asks for our passports and certificates, and hands them to the secretary for photocopying. Calls someone, goes out, covers the door.

Bazarkom appears (chair of the bazaar committee): "No, Saipov is not the owner. Helps a relative. Distant. It seems he is with the police. Nobody knows him; you do not need to talk to anyone. I do not give a permission to shoot."

We leave the office; there is an American journalist from Moscow in the waiting room. He distracts the guard, we manage to slip past Saipov's shop, which is a small room from where paints are sold. It is hard to imagine how one can own a huge house with just trading from such a shop.

Shop of Saipov senior. Photo by Ferghana News

The school, where Saipov may have studied is moments away from his house. Dozens of children leave the school. The security guard jumps at the sight of cameras and asks us to accompany him to the director.

There is no director, as she has left. The deputy director, a fussy kind woman, leads us to a well-renovated office, and seats us behind a table under a portrait of Karimov. She says she was appalled at the news of the terror act, adding that the teachers recognised Saipov from the photos being shown.

The headmistress appears magically, a stately, domineering lady with dyed hair. She strongly declares that Saipov did not study at her school. Places a box of chocolates on the table. Takes part in the conversation, but her unnatural pose affects every word.

She is followed by a round-faced policeman in a green uniform. Again, our documents are checked, photocopied and we undergo a polite interrogation. “Please sit here for a little longer. Will you have some tea?”

A makhalla official, who knows the Saipovs, arrives. “A good family, hardworking. And now they are all cursed. In our Makhalla, everyone knows everything about each other; no beard or religiosity would have remained unnoticed.”

The last to come is the criminal police investigator. Again, an interrogation, but without pressure. Another pot of tea is served. “Yes, the chocolate is delicious. You all can go; all the best, good luck!”

School. Photo by Ferghana News

Umida, Saipov’s sister, agrees to answer a few questions, but only by phone:"He liked America. But he missed Uzbekistan, its air, smells, and the house. [He] was going back. Said there is nothing bad about America. "

"He had no new friends and communicated only with old friends, with neighbours, and colleagues."

"We could not believe when we were shown the news on the Internet. My mother fainted. She had visited him, noticed nothing suspicious, and came back in a good mood. If she suspected, she would have checked."

"We are all shocked. It’s a real nightmare. We cannot understand why he did it. "

"He did not go to the mosque in Tashkent. There was no time, study, study, and then work. He always walked like a gentleman. Shoes polished, tie, white shirt. He played football. The haircut was good."

"We have fear in our hearts now. The whole family wants to talk to him. We want him to repent before the whole world. "

Tashkent Financial Institute, where Sayfullo Saipov studied. Photo by Ferghana News

Andrei Adzhamov, Ferghana News Agency. Moscow-Tashkent-Moscow

Fergana News Agency