NEW YORK – Authorities in New York City are investigating whether a man who attacked three police officers with a machete at a New Year’s Eve celebration, striking two of them, was inspired by radical Islamic extremism, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter.
The attack happened a little after 10 p.m. about eight blocks from Times Square, just outside the high-security zone where revelers are screened for weapons. Two of the officers were struck with the machete before an officer shot the man in the shoulder. The two officers were hospitalized, one with a fractured skull and the other with a bad cut, and were expected to recover.
Police did not publicly identify the 19-year-old suspect, but the law enforcement official identified him to The Associated Press as Trevor Bickford, of Wells, Maine.
Investigators believe Bickford traveled to New York City earlier in the week and are examining whether he came to New York specifically to attack police officers at one of the largest New Year's celebrations in the world, the law enforcement official said.
New York City police and federal officials are still trying to discern a motive, and investigators have been reviewing Bickford's online postings, which included some mentions of Islamic extremist views, the official said. The official could not publicly discuss details of the ongoing investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Bickford was expected to recover from the gunshot wound. No charges against him were immediately announced.
Michael Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said the FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force in New York City was investigating but investigators believe the attacker acted alone.
The attack and sound of a gunshot briefly sent some people running, but the festivities in Times Square continued uninterrupted.
Mayor Eric Adams said at a news conference early Sunday that he spoke to one of the wounded officers as he was being stitched up at the hospital.
“He was in good spirits," Adams said. “He understood that his role saved lives of New Yorkers today.”
The NYPD mounts a massive security operation every year to keep the New Year’s Eve crowd safe. Thousands of officers are sent to the area, including many new recruits. One of the injured officers just graduated from the police academy on Friday, the mayor said.
The blocks where the biggest crowds gather to see performances and the midnight ball drop can be accessed only through checkpoints where officers use metal-detecting wands to screen for weapons. Large bags and coolers are banned. Barriers are set up to prevent vehicle attacks.
The security perimeter extends only so far, though. The attack took place on 8th Avenue, which is often packed with people navigating around the frozen zone or trying to find one of the secure entrances.
Tucker reported from Washington and Balsamo reported from Kansas City, Missouri.