By a Biometrica staffer
Halloween 2017 turned out to be one the city of New York will never forget. At some point before 3 p.m. on the day, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov took the white Home Depot pickup truck he had rented in Passaic, New Jersey, and drove it across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, according to an NBC News report. It was a chilly evening, NBC News adds, and the streets were starting to fill with kids who had just been let out of school for Halloween. The evening would end tragically, with the death of eight people and a dozen more injured in what some term “the deadliest [attack] in New York City since Sept. 11, 2001.”
We’ll recap the details of that unfortunate Halloween evening further on in this piece. But how was a terror actor who claimed he was acting on behalf of ISIS able to rent a pickup truck? If laws had been in place to ensure more stringent background checks for those renting out vehicles, could it have been prevented? Lawmakers appear to think so. Only last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation designed to make it harder for terrorists to rent cars and trucks to carry out attacks.
In this piece, we explore that legislation, its current status, and the events that led its main sponsor to introduce it.
Before we go into the details of the legislation, we continue with the events that happened in New York on the evening of Oct. 31, 2017, according to the NBC News report. As the streets were starting to fill up, Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant, headed south toward the West Side Highway cycle path. Authorities said he left the road and veered onto the cycle path near Houston Street, an area between the West Village and Soho districts of lower Manhattan.
He is said to have continued at high speed for almost a mile, striking cyclists and pedestrians, and leaving a trail of debris and bodies in his wake. The rampage is said to have lasted for around 20 blocks and finished only a few hundred yards from the 9/11 World Trade Center memorial. He only came to a halt because he hit a school bus outside Stuyvesant High School on Chambers Street, injuring two adults and two children on board, the police said.
Investigators later found a note inside the truck Saipov used to carry out the deadly attack, in which he indicated that he’d carried out the attacks for the Islamic State terror group. After his truck was wrecked, he’s said to have jumped out, brandishing what were later identified as a pellet gun and a paintball gun. A uniformed police officer who was on patrol confronted him and shot him in the abdomen. He was then detained and taken to the hospital.
At his appearance in federal court in late-November 2017, Saipov pled not guilty to 22 counts, including eight counts of murder in aid of racketeering, 12 counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering, one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State terror group, and one count of violence and destruction of a motor vehicle.
Saipov came to the United States legally in 2010 from Uzbekistan. According to NBC News, he was issued traffic citations in Maryland in 2011, in Pennsylvania in 2012 and 2015, and in Missouri in 2016, where records showed he was driving a tractor-trailer.
He told investigators he was inspired by Islamic State videos to use a truck in the attack “to inflict maximum damage against civilians,” CNN reported in November 2017. Investigators searched two of his cell phones and found about 90 videos and 3,800 pictures, many of which were Islamic State-related propaganda, the CNN article adds.
The NBC report, too, added that the Islamic State had been encouraging its sympathizers in the West to stay in their home countries and directed them to carry out “low-tech” attacks using vehicles. Similar attacks have been carried out across Europe, with vehicles being plowed through crowds of unsuspecting pedestrians, NBC said.
The Darren Drake Act
That brings us to the legislation that is specifically targeted at making sure a terror actor finds it tough to rent a vehicle in the first place.
H.R. 4089 — Darren Drake Act
The bill in brief: This bill directs the Department of Homeland Security to develop and disseminate best practices for vehicle rental companies and dealers to report suspicious behavior to law enforcement at the point of sale of a rental vehicle. The best practices must include guidance on defining and identifying suspicious behavior in a manner that protects civil rights and civil liberties.
It was introduced in the House on June 23, 2021, and was passed/agreed to with amendments in the House on Oct. 19. The bill has only one co-sponsors so far apart from its chief sponsor Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Gottheimer had also introduced the bill in the 115th session of Congress (2017–2018) on July 13, but the bill did not progress beyond being introduced back then. The 117th Congress (2021–2022) is the third straight congressional session in which Gottheimer has introduced this legislation, but it’s the first time his bill has reached the House floor for a vote.
The long title of this act is: “To direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and disseminate best practices for rental companies and dealers to report suspicious behavior to law enforcement agencies at the point of sale of a covered rental vehicle to prevent and mitigate acts of terrorism using motor vehicles, and for other purposes.”
“This crucial legislation will provide rental companies and car dealers with the vital information they need to flag and stop potential terrorist threats in their tracks. We can take no chances when it comes to terrorism, which is why this bill will help ensure all rental companies report suspicious behavior at every point of sale,” Gottheimer said, per the NBC News report.
You can find the full text of the act here.
To be sure, the Federal Bureau of Investigation already has certain guidelines in place for vehicle rental agencies on when to consider someone looking to rent their vehicles as “suspicious.” Those guidelines can be found here.