Hatchet Attack Was Terrorist Act, Say Police

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Richard Esposito and Jonathan Dienst

New York's top cop said that the man who attacked two rookie New York City cops with a hatchet Thursday before being shot to death had committed a terrorist act.

"I'm very comfortable this was a terrorist attack," said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton at a press briefing Friday.

Bratton also said that although suspect Zale Thompson was apparently “inspired” by terror groups, he was “self-radicalized.”

"We at this time believe that he acted alone," said Bratton. "We would describe him as self-directed in his activities."

Thompson, a 32-year-old from Queens, had “an extensive social media presence,” said Deputy Commissioner John Miller, and “the common thread that goes through these conversations is anti-Western, anti-government and in some cases anti-white.”

Most recently, according to Miller, Thompson’s on-line activities including visiting websites focused on specific terror groups, like ISIS and al Qaeda, and looking at acts of violence that included beheadings.

“It appears,” said Miller, “that this is something that he has been thinking about for some time and thinking about with more intensity over recent days.” Miller said it was apparently “the suspect’s intent” to commit a terrorist act.

Federal officials told NBC News that “we are taking the incident seriously. We are running it to the ground. We are exploring all the options. But at this time the jury is still out as to motive.”

A freelance photographer had asked four rookie officers to pose for a photo on a sidewalk in Jamaica, Queens on Thursday afternoon when Thompson rushed the group.

Minutes before the attack, the bearded suspect was seen on a nearby street corner crouching down to take the weapon out of backpack before he charged and began swinging the hatchet with a two-handed grip.

He wounded one officer in the arm and hit another in the back of the head before the other officers shot and killed him.

"Those officers exhibited extraordinary bravery and skill in not only taking down an individual who was intent on killing them but also rendering first aid immediately to their fallen comrade," said Commissioner Bratton.

The officer with the head wound is in serious but stable condition at a local hospital, while the officer with the arm wound is due to be released from the hospital. A female bystander who was hit in the back with a stray bullet is also in the hospital in critical but stable condition.

Detectives say Thompson was still holding the hatchet when he was pronounced dead. The attack -- and the shooting -- happened in less than 10 seconds, Bratton said.

Police obtained a warrant to search Thompson's computer for clues about the assault. The search indicated he was a convert to Islam and included references to injustices in American society and oppression abroad but offered no clear evidence of any affiliation with terror groups, police said.