NEW YORK (AP) — A man accused of attacking police with a machete near New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve is now facing federal terrorism charges, federal authorities announced Tuesday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that Trevor Thomas Bickford was charged with federal crimes in connection with his self-avowed jihad on US government officials and his knife attack on three police officers in Times Square.
Bickford was already charged with attempting to murder police officers, assault and attempted assault in state court in Manhattan. If convicted, he faces a mandatory life sentence.
State prosecutors have said Bickford shouted “Allahu akbar” at about 10 pm on New Year’s Eve before striking one officer in the head and attempting to grab another officer’s gun. He was shot by police during the confrontation and was held without bail after he was arraigned by video from a Manhattan hospital.
The Legal Aid Society, a public defender organization representing Bickford, has urged the public “to refrain from drawing hasty conclusions and to respect the privacy of our client’s family.”
In the federal case, a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court said Bickford told a family member in late November or early December that he wanted to go to Jordan or Afghanistan to be a suicide bomber for his religion.
He booked a ticket to fly to Jordan on Dec. 12, but did not board the flight, the complaint said.
A day later, according to the complaint, the FBI conducted a voluntary interview with him in which Bickford said he had bought tickets to fly to New Delhi, India, several weeks earlier, planning to then go on to Afghanistan. There he hoped to “ally” with the Taliban and persuade them to help him fight the oppression of Muslims in Myanmar, formerly Burma, the complaint added.
The complaint said that Bickford claimed he did not agree with the Taliban’s use of violence against civilians and had no intention of joining al-Qaida.
US Attorney Damian Williams called the New Year’s Eve assault on the police officers a “senseless attack.”
Keechant Sewell, commissioner of the New York Police Department, said the department’s “family is thankful our heroic officers survived this premeditated ambush, and the entire city commends them for preventing further bloodshed during one of our nation’s largest public events.”
She added: “Clearly, the threat of jihadist terrorism remains very real, and our country’s security begins with the dedicated local, state, and federal law enforcement officers who are committed to keeping us safe.”
Bickford, 19, of Wells, Maine, began studying radical Islamic ideology last summer, authorities said.
They said he decided in November to wage jihad against US officials and officials of other governments he thought to be anti-Muslim.
He was charged with four counts of attempted murder of officers and employees of the US government and people assisting them. Each charge carries a potential penalty of 20 years in prison in the event of a conviction.