Suspect converted to jihadism before New Year’s Eve machete attack on NYPD Times Square cops: sources

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A young Maine man who recently became fixated with radical Islamic jihadism wounded two NYPD cops with a massive curved knife just outside the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, fracturing a rookie officer’s skull before being shot by police, law enforcement sources said Sunday.

Cops and federal investigators are now taking a hard look at the internet history of the 19-year-old suspect, identified by sources as Trevor Bickford of Wells, Maine, to determine if terrorism motivated the bloody holiday attack, law enforcement sources said.

“It’s being investigated as a terror attack, 100%,” one high-ranking NYPD official told the Daily News. “He radicalized about a month ago. He’s not affiliated with any group. It’s more like a lone-wolf situation.”

Bickford expressed extremist beliefs on social media, the official said, adding, “He made threats that he was going to attack a public official.”

The teen tried to swing a machetelike blade into a police officer’s head near Eighth Ave. and 52nd St. about 10:11 p.m. on Saturday, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. He then whacked two other officers in the head with the giant blade.

The rookie officer, identified by sources as Paul Cozzolino, who graduated from the Police Academy on Friday, suffered a “large laceration” to his head and a skull fracture his first day on the job.

The other wounded cop, an eight-year veteran identified by sources as Officer Louis Iorio, suffered a cut to his head, Sewell said.

“One of the officers fired their service weapon, striking the subject in the shoulder,” Sewell said.

Mayor Adams said he met with the on-the-mend rookie officer.

“I spoke with Paul and his dad, who’s named Paul as well, and his mom and his girlfriend as he was being stitched up, and he was in good spirits,” Adams said. “He understood that his role saved lives of New Yorkers today.”

The cop who opened fire, Officer Michael Hanna, is also a rookie, police sources said. He joined the NYPD in April.

Iorio and Hanna are both assigned to Staten Island’s 123rd Precinct, but were among the phalanx of cops working around Times Square for the New Year’s Eve ball drop.

Workers at a halal stand near the scene heard the gunshots.

“I heard the sounds only — Bang! Bang!” recounted one of the workers, Prodip Bisws. “People were running, oh my God, they were running.”

Police at the scene quickly took Bickford into custody.

The officers were taken to Bellevue Hospital, as was the suspect. All three were in stable condition, Sewell said.

Bickford came to New York via Amtrak last Thursday, according to ABC News.

He was staying in a homeless shelter in the city, police sources said.

Cops recovered a bag belonging to him in which they found an apologetic note addressed to his mother and family. Bickford felt he hadn’t been a good enough person and urged them to accept Allah, he wrote.

“He seemed worried they would not take his advice,” the source said.

He has no arrest history, but his mother and aunt became concerned about his turn toward jihadist ideologies and reached out to law enforcement officials, which put him on the radar of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, ABC News reported, citing law enforcement sources.

He had also booked or been planning to book an oversees flight, which the FBI was monitoring, police sources said.

In the diary cops recovered, Bickford wrote about his brother, a member of the U.S. military, whom he considered an “enemy,” they added.

“He talks about his family, his mother, letting them down,” the source said of the diary. “Not being good enough. He considers the U.S. government, the military, as his enemy and he sees his brother as the enemy.”

He also wrote about wanting to attack a police officer, the source said.

His mother, Audra D’Antilio Simpson, praised her son on his 19th birthday in a July Facebook post.

“So proud and lucky to be able to call you my son. [You’re] an old soul and you amaze me every day with all that you enjoy to explore and do,” she wrote. “I am so beyond proud of the man you are becoming.”

She has since taken down her public Facebook page and did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Bickford’s dad, Thomas Bickford, died unexpectedly in March 2018, according to an obituary.

The young suspect played football in high school and was a member of the 2020 Wells High School state championship wrestling team, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Assistant FBI Director Michael Driscoll told reporters the bureau was “trying to determine the nature of this attack,” but there appeared to be no “ongoing” threat.

Authorities were still determining Sunday whether Bickford will face local or federal charges.

At a news conference with Sewell and other law enforcement officials, Adams praised the police handling of the incident.

“These officers responded in an admirable, professional manner,” Adams said.

The attack took place just outside the security zone in Times Square, where thousands gathered for the annual ball drop. Police screened revelers for contraband such as alcohol, large bags and weapons.

The assault on the three cops went down 10 short blocks north and one long block west of the heart of Times Square.

In an earlier incident, about 8:45 p.m., two men were taken into custody after they got into a knife fight at the intersection of W. 42nd St. and Sixth Ave., near Bryant Park, also outside the Times Square security zone.

One of the men was taken to Bellevue Hospital.

Times Square was targeted for a terrorist attack in May 2010, when a Pakistani immigrant tried to detonate a car bomb in the Crossroads of the World. The bomb never went off, and Faisal Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison.

In December 2017, Akayed Ullah, who dreamed of martyring himself for ISIS, tried to set off a homemade bomb in the underground passageway between the Times Square subway station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. No one was killed, and he, too, was ultimately sentenced to life in prison.

Also in 2017, accused white supremacist James Harris Jackson killed a random Black man, Timothy Caughman, with a sword in Times Square, later telling police the slaying was “practice” for a racist killing spree. Jackson, who was charged with murder as an act of terror, is serving a life sentence in state prison.

With Thomas Tracy