NEW YORK (AP) — A man accused of attacking police with a machete near New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve was intent on committing a jihad against government officials and shouted “Allahu akbar” before striking one officer in the head and attempting to grab another officer’s gun, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Trevor Bickford, who was shot by police during the confrontation, was arraigned by video from a Manhattan hospital and ordered to be held without bail. He did not enter a plea and has another court appearance scheduled for Friday.
Bickford, 19, of Wells, Maine, is charged with attempting to murder police officers, assault and attempted assault. If convicted, he faces a mandatory life sentence. The attack, at the edge of the high-security zone where throngs of revelers gathered, left three officers injured.
Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Lucy Nicholas said Bickford “specifically traveled to New York from Maine in order to begin carrying out his crimes of murder of government officials,” arriving in the city a few days before the attack.
Bickford had an Amtrak ticket to Miami and wanted to travel abroad, “but then decided to come to New York first in order to kill people and carry out Jihad,” Nicholas said. He had no known ties to the city or state, she said.
Nicholas said Bickford told investigators that “all government officials” were a target for him because of the U.S.’s support of Israel, including police officers, but that he purposely spared civilians from harm. Authorities have been investigating whether Bickford was motivated by Islamic extremism.
The Legal Aid Society, a public defender organization representing Bickford, urged the public “to refrain from drawing hasty conclusions and to respect the privacy of our client’s family.”
The machete attack happened about two hours before midnight on Saturday, just outside the area where people are screened for weapons before gaining entry to one of the world’s biggest and most famous New Year’s celebrations.
Three officers were struck with the machete before an officer shot the suspect, authorities said. One officer suffered a fractured skull and another had a bad cut. All were expected to recover. Investigators believe the attacker acted alone.
Bickford’s mother contacted the Wells, Maine, Police Department on Dec. 10 to express concerns about her son, and the department notified the FBI, Wells Police Capt. Jerry Congdon said Tuesday. He could not discuss the interaction further, but said Bickford was not a concern to local police.
The Times Square attack “was as much of a surprise to us as it was anyone else,” Congdon said. “He was certainly flying under the radar.”
FBI agents were seen Sunday entering Bickford’s family home in Wells, a popular beach destination close to the New Hampshire border. Bickford competed in sports in high school, was part of Maine’s state champion wrestling team in 2020 and made the honor roll for his studies at least one year.
Bickford’s online postings included some mentions of Islamic extremist views, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter. The official could not publicly discuss details about the ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
In Bickford’s criminal complaint, a detective with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force said he told her: “I wanted to kill an officer in uniform.”
According to the detective, Bickford said he waited until he saw an officer alone, said “Allahu akbar,” walked up to him and hit him over the head with the machete, which he said was a kukri — a machete-like blade with South Asian origins. In Arabic, “Allahu akbar” means “God is great.”
According to the detective, Bickford said he then charged another officer, dropped the knife and attempted to grab that officer’s gun. Nicholas said Bickford told investigators he wanted to kill the officers with the gun, but couldn’t get it out of the holster.
Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo in Washington, David Sharp in Portland, Maine and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.