A hatchet-wielding man who attacked several New York City police officers on Thursday was described by police officials as a “self-radicalized” Muslim convert who was inspired by terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, but who most likely acted alone and on his own initiative, the New York Times reports. Zale Thompson, 32, set upon four officers as they posed for a photograph, striking one in the arm and another in the head, before he was shot and killed by the other officers. A stray bullet struck a bystander in the back.
The episode underscored the challenges to identifying isolated threats and preventing attacks. Thompson had never drawn the attention of law enforcement, said police commissioner William Bratton, despite evidence he had become radicalized. After speaking with Thompson's relatives, authorities said he had converted to Islam two years ago. His online history shows he had recently visited websites related to the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and Al Shabab, the military Islamist group based in Somalia, and viewed videos of beheadings, said John Miller, who oversees police intelligence and counterterrorism. Thomson was described as an out-of-work recluse who spent hours in his room on the computer browsing radical websites and occasionally left comments on Facebook and YouTube that disparaged whites and Christians and most recently supported violent jihad.