New Year's Eve attack on New York police linked to Islamist extremism

FILE PHOTO: New Year celebration in Times Square

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) - The teenager accused of attacking three policemen with a machete on New Year's Eve near Times Square and charged with attempted murder was linked to Islamist extremism, a senior New York City Police Department official said on Tuesday.

"He knew what he was doing. He knew why he was doing it and he thought he would die in the attack," Thomas Galati, the department's chief of intelligence and counterterrorism, told ABC News in an interview on Tuesday. "He did yell out 'Allahu Akbar.'" The Arabic expression means "God is Great."

The FBI interviewed the suspect, Trevor Bickford, last month in Maine after his mother reported her concern that her son was possibly becoming radicalized, Galati said. Agents determined that Bickford wanted to fight in Afghanistan and placed him on a federal watch list to prevent him from traveling overseas.

"He is not representing, you know, the Islamic religion but rather, you know, a very, very small percentage of people that get radicalized," Galati added.

On Monday, police said Bickford, 19, came from Wells, Maine, and said he had been charged with attempted murder and attempted assault.

New York City rang in the new year in typical style on Saturday with its famous ball drop celebration in Times Square.

The attack, which officials say was unprovoked, took place before midnight outside a secure area set up for New Year's Eve celebrations.

All three officers who were attacked had been released from hospital by Monday. One of the officers shot the suspect, hitting him in the shoulder. The suspect was then taken into custody, police said.

Before the attack, Bickford wrote a farewell letter to his mother in a diary, according to the New York Times report quoting a law enforcement official.

"I fear greatly you will not repent to Allah and therefore I hold hope in my heart that a piece of you believes so that you may be taken out of the hellfire," the Times quoted Bickford as writing.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Stephen Coates)