Islamic Extremism Drove Suspect in Times Square Attack, Official Says
The man charged with attacking three police officers with a machete near Times Square on New Year’s Eve had traveled to New York from his home in Maine to injure the police in an act of Islamic extremism, a senior law enforcement official said on Monday.
The man, Trevor Bickford, 19, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of attempted assault, the police announced on Monday. Mr. Bickford may face terrorism charges as well, said the law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing investigation.
Shortly after 10 p.m. on Saturday, the police said, Mr. Bickford set upon three officers who were standing near the corner of Eighth Avenue and 52nd Street, just outside the security cordon for the Times Square celebrations, before one of the three officers shot him in the shoulder. One officer, who had just graduated from the police academy, suffered a fractured skull in the attack and remains hospitalized in stable condition, the police said.
The other two officers, including the one who shot Mr. Bickford, have been released from the hospital, while Mr. Bickford remains hospitalized in stable condition, the law enforcement official said.
Sometime on Saturday before the attack, the official said, Mr. Bickford wrote a farewell letter to his family in a diary that was found on him afterward. In it, he wrote to his mother, “I fear greatly you will not repent to Allah and therefore I hold hope in my heart that a piece of you believes so that you may be taken out of the hellfire.”
Mr. Bickford also referred in his diary to his brother, who is in the U.S. military, as having assumed the uniform of the enemy, the law enforcement official said.
Investigators have begun to piece together a picture of the suspect’s life, the official said. Mr. Bickford is a native of Wells, half an hour south of Portland, Maine. He was a high school athlete, an honor roll student and an award-winning artist who seemed to spiral downward after his father died of a drug overdose several years ago. Sometime in the last year and a half, he converted to Islam, often praying at mosques in the vicinity and devouring readings and videos about the religion. He was angered by the persecution of Muslims overseas, including of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uyghurs in China, and decided to go abroad and fight for them.
After his family alerted law enforcement of his plan to go overseas, he said that he planned instead to travel domestically, and in peace. He left Maine in early December with several thousand dollars in cash, a debit or credit card, and the machete. By last Thursday, he had arrived by train in New York.
Mr. Bickford spent Friday night at a hotel in the Bowery in Manhattan, stopped by the Bowery Mission and made a large donation in accordance with Muslim tenets of charity. He took the subway to Queens, where the police later recovered some of his possessions, including a sleeping bag, a bed roll and food, in Forest Park in Richmond Hill. The police are investigating whether he met someone there.
By midafternoon on New Year’s Eve, Mr. Bickford was in Times Square. Because he wanted to attack only the police, not bystanders, he waited until he found officers who were not standing near other civilians.