NEW YORK (AP) – Authorities in New York City are investigating whether a man who assaulted three police officers and punched two of them at a New Year’s Eve party was inspired by radical Islamic extremism, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter.
The attack happened just after 10 p.m. about eight blocks from Times Square, just outside the high-security zone where revelers are searched for weapons. Two of the officers were beaten before an officer shot the man in the shoulder. The two officers were taken to hospital, one with a fractured skull and the other with a bad laceration, and were expected to recover.
Police did not publicly identify the 19-year-old suspect, but the police officer 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 looking into whether he came to New York specifically to attack police officers at one of the world’s biggest New Year’s celebrations, the police official said.
New York City police and federal officials are still trying to determine a motive, and investigators have reviewed Bickford’s online postings, which included some mentions of Islamist extremist views, the official said. The official has been unable to publicly discuss details of the ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Bickford was scheduled to recover from the gunshot wound. No charges against him were immediately announced.
Michael Driscoll, deputy chief of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force in New York City is investigating, but investigators believe the attacker acted alone.
The attack and the sound of a gunshot caused some people to run briefly, but the celebrations in Times Square continued uninterrupted.
Mayor Eric Adams said at a news conference early Sunday 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 for New Yorkers today.”
The NYPD conducts a massive security operation every year to protect the New Year’s Eve crowds. 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 largest crowds gather to watch performances and the Midnight Ball can only be reached via checkpoints where officers use metal detectors to search for weapons. Large bags and cool boxes are prohibited. Barriers are erected to prevent vehicle attacks.
However, the security perimeter only goes so far. The attack took place on 8th Avenue, which is often packed with people navigating the frozen zone or trying to find one of the safe entrances.
Tucker reported from Washington and Balsamo reported from Kansas City, Missouri.