White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that the New York terrorist assailant should be considered as an enemy combatant, a status which would make him subject to military justice. “I believe we would consider this person to be an enemy combatant, yes,” said Sanders. “I think the actions that he took certainly justify that.”

Sayfullo Saipov, a native of Uzbekistan, is accused of killing eight people and injuring 11 others by mowing them down with a pickup truck on bike path in lower Manhattan Tuesday. He entered the US on a diversity visa and has reportedly sponsored 23 other immigrants. 

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he may send Saipov to the terrorist detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Sanders said, however, that the president “wasn’t necessarily advocating for it.” As for the president’s calls for more stringent measures against terrorism, Sanders said that Trump “was simply expressing his frustration” with the lengthy legal process that often comes with such cases.

Whether Saipov, a legal permanent resident, may face a military tribunal or tried in civilian courts comes while there are several high-profile terrorism trials in the federal courts. In October, a federal jury convicted Ahmad Khan Rahimi (29) of planting two homemade explosive devices in New York City in 2016, one of which exploded and injured 30 people. A federal trial of  Ahmed Abu Khattala for his alleged role in the deadly 2012 attack on an American facility in Benghazi, Libya, started in October. One of his accomplices was arrested in Libya last week and will also face a civilian court.

Federal civilian criminal courts had convicted 620 people on terrorism-related charges, according to Department of Justice documents from 2015, since the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the number of convictions has risen. According to a Fordham University School of Law analysis, between March 2014 and through August 2017, 135 people had been charged and 77 people had been convicted of crimes linked to the Islamic State. Since 2001, military courts have handed down eight convictions, with four overturned. After more than a decade in custody at Guantanamo, the five people accused of conspiring in the Sept. 11 attacks have yet to go to trial.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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