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Suspect in New Year's Eve machete attack considered international targets, officials say

Trevor Bickford, 19, considered an attack in Burma or China over the treatment of Muslims, law enforcement officials said.
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The man suspected of attacking three New York City police officers with a machete on New Year’s Eve had been studying the Quran and considered carrying out an international attack, according to law enforcement sources who shared new information about the suspect's movements before the attack.

Trevor Bickford, 19, of Wells, Maine, nearly 300 miles from Times Square, told investigators that he self-radicalized over the past three or four months, said two senior officials briefed on the attack, who characterized the suspect as a homegrown violent extremist motivated in part by Salafi extremism.

While only a small minority of Muslims are Salafis, most Muslim violent extremist movements — including Al Qaeda — are rooted in Salafism, a fundamentalist Islamic movement based on 13th and 14th century teachings, according to the Minerva Research Initiative, a research program of the Defense Department, and the Counter-Extremism Project, a nonpartisan international policy organization.

The machete used to attack three  police officers on New Year's Eve in New York.
The machete used to attack three police officers in New York on New Year's Eve.NYPD via AP

Bickford was arrested on two counts of attempted murder and two counts of attempted assault.

A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said Tuesday that the timing of Bickford’s arraignment remains unclear. Officials say the Justice Department continues to look into whether federal terrorism-related charges are warranted. 

Bickford was shot in the shoulder by police and remained hospitalized Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether he has a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

One of the two senior officials briefed on the attack said Bickford indicated he had initially looked into carrying out “jihad” against Burma or China because of how those governments treat Muslims.

Bickford traveled from Boston to New York on Amtrak on Thursday, the officials said.

Law enforcement sources say that he considered New York as a target just before he traveled to the city and that he solidified his plans to attack upon his arrival, adding that he said women and children would be off-limits.

Relative made report three weeks before attack

By the time Bickford, who does not have a criminal record, traveled to New York, he was known to law enforcement: Federal agents interviewed him in mid-December after a relative alerted them to his revolutionary support for Islam, four law enforcement sources briefed on the investigation said.

The relative — whose relation to Bickford was not immediately clear — told law enforcement officials they were concerned he was depressed and not taking his medication, law enforcement sources said.

In his diary, Bickford referred to nonbelievers as “kuffar” and indicated he wanted to die for his religion, officials said.

He detailed whom he wanted his possessions to go to and where he wanted to be buried if he died in the attack, law enforcement officials have said. He also wrote about disappointing his mother and his hopes that his brothers would join him in his fight for Islam, they said.

Bickford also made pro-jihadist statements from his hospital bed after the attack, the sources said.

New details emerge

Bickford had walked across Central Park just before the attack, but it is unclear where he was immediately before it, officials said.

Investigators are also looking into whether Bickford stayed at a homeless shelter when he arrived in New York City, four law enforcement officials have said.

During the attack — which occurred said shortly after 10 p.m. at West 52nd Street and Eighth Avenue, just outside high-security checkpoints that celebrants had to pass through — Bickford yelled "Allahu Akbar," an Islamic phrase meaning "God is the greatest," law enforcement sources said.

The attack began when a man tried to hit an officer over the head with a machete before he struck two officers in the head with the blade, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said Sunday. Bickford was then shot and arrested, Sewell said.

Three officers were hospitalized; one had a fractured skull and another had a bad cut. All three were discharged from Bellevue Hospital overnight.