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 began swinging the knife without provocation at three officers who were at Eighth Avenue and 52nd Street, just outside the security cordon for the Times Square celebrations. One of the officers, Michael Hanna, shot Mr. Bickford in the shoulder.

Officer Paul Cozzolino, who had just graduated from the police academy, suffered a fractured skull in the attack. He has been released from the hospital, as have Officer Hanna and the third officer, Louis Iorio, the police said. Mr. Bickford remained 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.

Mr. Bickford, a native of Wells, half an hour south of Portland, Maine, was a high school wrestler and also played lacrosse and football, according to a high school athletics page. In 2020, he received an honorable mention for jewelry in an art competition, according to The Portsmouth Herald.

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Investigators have begun to piece together a picture of his unraveling. After his father died of a drug overdose in 2018, Mr. Bickford, a onetime honor-roll student, seemed to spiral downward, the law enforcement official said.

Sometime in the last year and a half, he converted to Islam, 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.

The police released this image of the weapon they said was used in the attack.Credit…N.Y.P.D.

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 the Richmond Hill neighborhood. 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.

Mr. Bickford knew he might be injured or killed in the attack but was at peace with it, said the official, who added that Mr. Bickford took comfort in knowing he was fighting for Islam.