Ex-neighbors of NYC terror suspect in Fort Myers, Tampa reckon with reality

A photo of Sayfullo Saipov is displayed at a news conference at One Police Plaza Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in New York. Saipov is accused of driving a truck on a bike path that killed several and injured others Tuesday near One World Trade Center. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

FORT MYERS, Fla. The terror in New York on Tuesday brought the FBI to Gulfstream Isles.

Agents were knocking on doors in the hours after Tuesday’s deadly truck attack in New York, searching for clues about the suspect who used to live in the apartments off Summerlin Road and Boy Scout Drive. Saipov also had an apartment on the 2700 block of Colonial Boulevard, records show.

Another person, Mukhammadzoir Kadirov, was briefly wanted for questioning in connection with the attack. But at a news conference later FBI Assistant Director in Charge Bill Sweeney said, “We’ve found him, and we’ll leave it at that.”

Kadirov lived in south Fort Myers as recently as August, records show.

“It can happen anywhere,” said Paige Milando, a Gulfstream Isles resident who was a neighbor of Saipov when he lived there between 2010 and 2011.

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Media from near and far descended on the complex, prompting Fort Myers police to ask reporters to honor a request from apartment managers to stay off the property.

A similar scene played out Wednesday at the Heritage at Tampa, the apartments where Saipov lived up until about a year ago. The complex issued the following statement:

Saipov, born in Uzbekistan, was radicalized after coming to the U.S., authorities believe. But little is known about how he spent his time in Fort Myers.

Now 29, he was of college age when he moved into Gulfstream Isles in 2010. But he didn’t attend Florida Gulf Coast University. He wasn’t known to local law enforcement. He has no criminal record in Florida and no records on file at the Lee County Courthouse.

Saipov legally immigrated to the U.S. from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2010. Some records indicate Fort Myers was his first place of residence domestically, while acquaintances said he made his first home in Ohio.

There, two other Uzbek immigrants, Akhmadjon Kholberdiyev and Mirrakhmat Muminov, came to know Saipov and said they were most struck by how provocative he was.

Sometimes, he would stir quarrels over weighty topics such as politics or the Mideast peace process, they said, but he could also grow angry over something as simple as a picnic.

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“He had the habit of disagreeing with everybody,” said Muminov, a 38-year-old from Stow, Ohio, who just as Saipov once did, works as a truck driver.

Muminov said Saipov was “aggressive” and suspected he held radical views, though Muminov never heard him speak of the Islamic State group.

“He was not happy with his life,” Muminov said.

Kholberdiyev, a groundskeeper at a local mosque, called Saipov quiet and said he came to the mosque to pray every two or three weeks.

According to some media reports, Saipov lived for some time in Kyrgyzstan, another ex-Soviet nation that borders Uzbekistan and has a sizable ethnic Uzbek minority.

“He was not happy with his life,” Muminov said.

Kholberdiyev, a groundskeeper at a local mosque, called Saipov quiet and said he came to the mosque to pray every two or three weeks.

Hassan Shibly, the chief executive director of the Council of Islamic-American Relations in Florida, sought to distance the connection between Saipov and Islam.

“He claims to share my faith,” Shibly said. “He obviously shares my city — Tampa. But he has nothing to do with Islam.”

Still, the knowledge that a neighbor became a terror suspect left some fearful. Tatiana Colarte used to walk in front of Saipov’s apartment in Tampa.

“To know now how big of an issue this is and that the man was living here, it worries me a lot,” she said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Reporter:Channing Frampton