New York City law enforcement officials have described the 32-year-old man who struck a group of police officers with a hatchet in Queens as a “self-radicalized” recent convert to Islam. Although he drew inspiration from terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, police believe it is most probable that he came up with the plan and enacted the attack by himself.
Zale H. Thompson attacked four NYPD officers with a hatchet not long after 2:00 p.m. on Thursday. The officers were posing for a photo on Jamaica Avenue when Thompson struck one in the head and another officer in the arm in a bizarre attack that lasted only seven seconds. The remaining officers fired 19 shots at Thompson, who collapsed to the ground; the hatchet still in his clenched fist. A passerby was also injured when a stray bullet hit her in the back.
Police Commissioner William J. Bratton believes the incident highlights the difficult task police face when attempting to uncover and prevent attacks by isolated terrorists. Although relatives of the attacker told police that Thompson had become radicalized within the past two years, law enforcement had failed to target him as a possible threat. John Miller, who is in charge of counterterrorism and intelligence for the NYPD, revealed that although Thompson’s computer revealed visits to websites related to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and Al Shabab, including beheading videos, he has not been definitively linked to any domestic or international organized terrorist group.
Miller believes that, based on the investigation into Thompson’s cell phones, computers and bank records, that the attacker had planned the event for a while. His computer activity demonstrated an increased level of desire to act as he spent a lot of time during the past week reading reports regarding the attacks in Canada and the White House jumper. An official who viewed a surveillance video of Thompson as he began his attack said he believes that the assault was planned. He describes Thompson as “target[ing] the police officers,” saying that once he spotted the officers, he watched them for a short while before removing the hatchet from his backpack and running straight for them.
An investigation by NYPD detectives and counterterrorism detectives, along with the FBI, began the day after the attack with the interviewing of friends and family of Thompson. They pieced together a picture of an unemployed loner who remained in his room in his father’s house in Queens for hours visiting terrorist websites. He sometimes criticized Christians and whites on YouTube and Facebook, but recently his comments had turned into support of a violent jihad.
Because the hatchet attack happened the same week as two separate attacks on Canadian military personnel, officers in NYPD have been on high alert. A memo issued by the department on Thursday evening warned patrolling officers to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity.
The hospital released Officer Joseph Meeker, 24, on Friday. His fellow officer, Kenneth Healey, 25, has a severe head wound but is listed as being in serious but stable condition. The 29-year-old female bystander who was shot in the back by the stray bullet is stable, but in critical condition.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo of NYPD cruiser by rollingrck – Licensed