NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Authorities believe a 32-year-old Queens man Zale Thompson, the man who attacked a group of NYPD officers in Queens with a hatchet before they shot him dead, acted alone. They also said he may have been inspired by this week’s terrorist attack in Ottawa.
“It appears, just from the electronic forensic piece of this, that this is something that he has been thinking about for some time and thinking about with more intensity over recent days,” the NYPD Counter-terrorism Chief John Miller said.
Police obtained a warrant to search Thompson’s computer for clues about Thursday’s daytime assault, which left one officer with a serious head injury.
Thompson’s activity on social media indicated he was a convert to Islam and included rants about injustices in American society and oppression abroad but offered no clear evidence of any affiliation with terror groups, police said.
Sources told CBS 2’s Matt Kozar that Thompson had been visiting websites affiliated with Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Al-Shabaab.
A Facebook page linked to Thompson includes a picture of an Islamic warrior and a quote from the Koran.
On YouTube, Thompson appears to have posted a comment advocating “holy war,” saying “If you’re looking for ‘perfect’ Muslims who never make any mistakes in their jihad, then you will be looking in vain,” CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
Thompson was also online “looking at different acts of violence including beheadings,” Miller said.
Authorities also seized a hunting knife as well as another “weaponized ax” from Thompson’s residence after obtaining a search warrant.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Friday at a news conference that he was comfortable calling the incident a terrorist attack.
“This was a terrorist attack, certainly,” Bratton said.
But he also stopped short of including the attack in the list of terror plots against the city since Sept. 11, 2001, saying the investigation was continuing.
Bratton also said it appears to have been a spontaneous attack, but added the fact that Thompson was walking with an ax indicates some preparation.
Security video and witness accounts appeared to leave no doubt that Thompson purposely targeted four rookie officers, police said.
The attack occurred at about 2 p.m. Thursday while the officers were standing together on foot patrol, police said.
Without a word, Thompson swung at an officer who blocked the blow with his arm. Another officer was hit in the back of the head and fell to the ground.
Bratton said the incident took all of seven seconds.
“Nothing was said at the time of the assault. The suspect was described as having charged at the officers,” Bratton said Thursday.
As Thompson raised the hatchet again, the two uninjured officers drew their weapons and fired several rounds, police said. The bullets killed the assailant and wounded a female bystander, police said.
A bloody hatchet, about 18 inches in length, was recovered from the scene.
Moments before the attack, Thompson was seen on a street corner crouching down to pull the hatchet out of a backpack before he charged the officers and began swinging with a two-handed grip, police said.
The NYPD is now working with FBI and a joint counter-terrorism task force as they investigate the incident.
Bratton added that the idea of a self-radicalized person is one of increasing concern. He and other experts have been warning for months about the possibility of lone wolf terror attacks.
Also at the news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the “see something, say something” mentality, saying it goes beyond just seeing a suspicious bag on the subway.
“It also should take the form of if you see erratic behavior,” de Blasio said.
Police said they also were trying to determine if Thompson had any history of mental illness.
Thompson was described by family members as a recluse and had been depressed lately, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.
Thompson reportedly often spent time at the Jamaica apartment building where his mother lives.
Officer Kenneth Healey, who was slashed in the head, was taken to Jamaica Hospital Center in critical but stable condition. The second officer, Joseph Meeker, was also taken to the hospital for injuries to his arm.
The female bystander who was accidentally struck by a police round was taken to Jamaica Hospital Center. Authorities said she was about half a block down the street from the incident when she was injured.
Bratton said all the officers involved are recent graduates of this summer’s police academy class.
CBS 2 has learned Thompson graduated from the College of New Rochelle in 2008 and worked in information services at the college until 2012.
Earlier in his life, he was discharged from the Navy for misconduct, reportedly due to drug use, and has a criminal record in California in 2003 and 2004 for domestic assault.
Authorities said Thompson had no prior arrests in New York and his only contact with the NYPD appears to be when he was the victim of assault as a teenager in 1996.
Bratton urged anyone with information about Thompson to call police.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
- Suspect In Custody In Death Of Missing Mount Vernon Woman
- Suspect Wanted For Snatching Necklaces From Subway Riders In Brooklyn, Police Say
- NYPD: Suspect Sought For Punching Man On Queens Bus
- Break Dancers Battle It Out At McDonald’s B-Boy Royale Competition
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)