'It was shocking': lucky escapes and a chaotic scene after New York attack

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Fatema Jutil, 23, from Queens spoke about the New York attack

Fatema Jutil, 23, from Queens spoke about the New York attack

New York City: As heavily armed police, the dog squad, and the FBI patrolled the scene of Tuesday afternoon's terror attack in New York, in surrounding streets, children dressed in Halloween costumes were trick or treating.

Witnesses to the earlier atrocities spoke of lucky escapes and a chaotic scene after a 29-year-old man mowed down cyclists and pedestrians in a rented utility vehicle, in what authorities are treating as a terrorist attack.

The ute drove about a kilometre down a bike path before eventually colliding with a school bus, after which the driver got out of the vehicle brandishing two fake handguns and was shot by a local uniformed police officer.

The attack occurred in Tribeca, one of the most expensive areas of Manhattan. Situated in lower Manhattan, it is favoured by families, who enjoy the child friendly amenities, green spaces, wide footpaths and less congested, peaceful streets and neighbourhood feel.

Nearby are schools and community colleges.

Amir Chaghlil, a student at the community college, said he heard the commotion and went to investigate.

"It was shocking," he said. "By the time I ran out, I saw the police putting cloths over the dead bodies.

"There were at least four to five bodies ... they were on the bike path itself. Their bikes were near them, still on the path."

Many of the cyclists were riding Citibikes, part of New York's bike share system, used by locals and tourists alike to see the city.

Five friends from Argentina are among those killed. The compatriots, from the city of Rosario in central Argentina, were celebrating the 30th anniversary of their graduation.

A statement from the ministry says it passed on its deepest condolences following the deaths of Hernan Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernan Ferruchi.

A sixth Argentinian man with the group named as Martin Ludovico Marro is being treated at the Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan, the ministry added.

A Belgian woman was also killed, with three more Belgians injured - a mother, father and child from the same family and are undergoing surgery, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told news agency Belga.

The terror attack occurred on one of Manhattan's most popular bike tracks, which is frequented by walkers and joggers.

Eyewitness Fatema Jutil, 23, from Queens, said she was in class at the nearby community college when she heard loud bangs which she thought was part of a Halloween prank.

"But then my classmates who were right next to windows screamed: 'Oh my god. It's gunshots'.

"We looked out the window and there were bodies laying on the ground. Police [were] holding guns ... I've never seen something like this before.

"My whole body was shaking, like I didn't expect to see something like this. It's scary," a tearful Ms Jutil said. "We were all speechless."

Student Azrielle Castro, 20, believes she had a lucky escape.

She had just left the Burrell of Manhattan Community College and normally walks near the path where the attack occurred.

"I would usually walk down along there but today I was feeling really tired.

"I can't believe it's happened in this area where there are so many schools and colleges.

"The World Trade Centre is literally right there and everybody is hyper sensitive when something happens around here. It's just very sad."

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A witness, who gave his name as Matteo, said he saw the gunman brandishing two weapons as he exited the vehicle.

"I ran up the bridge and saw this dude with two guns"

Matteo said he was being pursued by police.

"All of a sudden there were four shots and we started running," he said.

The suspect was shot in the abdomen by NYPD officer Ryan Nash, 28, who was praised for his heroism and quick thinking.

A witness, Tawhid Kabir, told CNN he saw the suspect laying injured on the ground after being shot.

"I was so scared when I heard the gunshots."

As the drama unfolded, nearby schools and colleges went into lockdown, with teachers and staff announcing over loud speakers for students to remain inside the building.

John Williams told the New York Post he saw panic stricken children running for help.

"Two women and a group of children, maybe 10 children, they're running towards me. I hear one of the girls screaming, "Someone has a gun!"," he recalled.

Patema Rahman, a nursing student, was visibly shaken as she described the carnage to reporters.

"The first thing I saw was a lot of blood and a white cloth over the body. I knew someone was dead."

Ms Rahman was in a maths lecture and looked out the window of her college after hearing what sounded like gunshots.

"I've never witnessed anything like this in my life. I can't even think straight.

"The teacher was telling us: 'Don't look out the window. Please remain calm'.

"I pray for all the innocent people killed and hurt."

At 8pm local time, a heavy police presence remained at the scene, with undercover FBI investigators combing the area and examining the wreckage.

This story 'It was shocking': lucky escapes and a chaotic scene after New York attack first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.