New York machete attack on Times Square: Trevor Bickford’s most likely suspect is motivated by Islamic extremism, sources say
NEW YORK CITY — Maine teenager charged in attack on three NYPD officers made statements to investigators that bolster the belief that the attack was motivated by Islamic extremism, law enforcement sources told ABC News.
Trevor Bickford, 19, is expected to be charged with attempted murder soon. He remains hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
Bickford told police he took a sip of water and shouted “Allahu Akbar” before attacking officers with a knife, sources said.
The knife, which NYPD officials said was old and rusty, was purchased in Maine, where Bickford also withdrew thousands of dollars in cash at one point before taking an Amtrak train to New York on December 29. . The pullout and purchase suggest premeditation, sources said. Authorities believe Bickford has had the gun for about a year.
Upon arrival in New York, the suspect made a large donation with the money to the Bowery Mission, which investigators believe was intended to satisfy a Muslim principle of charity.
From there, Bickford is believed to have slept in a park in Forest Park, Queens. Police recovered a sleeping bag linked to the suspect, sources said. Investigators are interested in what brought him to the park in a remote part of town and if he intended to meet anyone.
Early Monday, authorities entered and exited the suspect’s home in Wells, Maine.
Bickford was charged Monday afternoon with attempted murder of a police officer and attempted assault. He could still face federal terrorism charges.
The attack happened near 52nd Street and 8th Avenue just after 10 p.m. Saturday, less than two hours before the ball dropped in Times Square to ring in 2023.
Authorities say Bickford pulled out a machete and attacked the three officers, hitting two of them in the head.
One officer suffered a fractured skull, another was treated for a bad cut. One is an eight-year veteran and the other is a rookie officer who just graduated from the police academy on Friday.
Moments after the attack, Bickford was shot in the shoulder by police.
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The three injured officers are recovering at home.
The attack and the sound of a gunshot briefly caused a few people to run through the crowd, but the incident had no impact on the festivities in Times Square, which continued uninterrupted.
New surveillance video from inside Fiorintina’s Pizza on Eighth Avenue has captured the chaotic moments.
Staff and patrons could be seen staring outside at what they thought were two people fighting.
“But after that we heard the gunshots and once I heard the gunshots everyone was like rushing to the back of the building, people trying to get in, people trying to get in. out,” owner Mike Sicilano said.
New York Mayor Eric Adams told a news conference on Sunday that he spoke to one of the injured officers while he was being treated in hospital.
“He was in good spirits,” Adams said. “He understood that his role saved the lives of New Yorkers today.”
The attack is also being investigated as a possible terrorism incident due to online postings Bickford made prior to the attack.
Investigators are looking into the possibility that he was radicalized by Islamist extremists and examining a handwritten diary found in his backpack.
“The last entry in there says, ‘This will probably be my last entry,’ it’s dated December 31, 2022,” said CNN law enforcement and intelligence analyst and former NYPD deputy commissioner John Miller. . “And it goes on to lay out, basically, a last will and testament: how to divide my property, which family members to give things to, where he wants to be buried — ‘not in the land of the unbelievers’.”
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Sources say Trevor Bickford’s mother and aunt have informed law enforcement in recent weeks of their concerns that he gravitates towards dangerous Islamist ideologies.
After the suspect’s mother reported her son’s gravitation towards Islamic extremism last month, the FBI interviewed Bickford and determined he was seeking to travel to Afghanistan to champion the cause, law enforcement sources told ABC News.
Bickford was placed on a federal watch list that would have barred him from traveling abroad. However, nothing prevented him from boarding an Amtrak train for New York.
Maine neighbor Steve Isles told reporters that Bickford had two brothers and they were well known in the neighborhood.
“It’s kinda hard to believe, I was just shocked, you know?” Isles said. “Wells is a very small community and you think, you know, ‘Did this really just happen here?’ My son Andrew went to high school with the boys. They weren’t really close, they weren’t close friends or anything. But Wells has, you know, a very small school system. So everybody somehow knows each other.
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank that tracks and analyzes online extremism, terrorism and disinformation, released a briefing on the attack on Monday, explaining that jihadist groups were promoting attacks to low-tech and targeted law enforcement in the run-up to New Year’s Eve.
“The attack follows a series of media announcements and propaganda by ISIS affiliates around the world that encouraged supporters to carry out lone actor attacks against targets such as airports and security services,” the ISD analysts wrote. “In particular, Islamic State supporters have recently shared content produced in 2016 during the height of the self-declared Islamic State Caliphate, intended to inspire lone actors to carry out low-budget or self-triggering attacks using knives, trucks, cars, and other rudimentary weapons in order to wreak havoc in public places.”
If authorities determine the attack was motivated by Islamist ideology, it would make it the first-ever terrorist incident associated with New Year’s Eve in Times Square, something the NYPD and FBI have long feared and planned.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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