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William Bratton: Hatchet attack on NYPD was 'terrorist' act

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton holds a photo

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton holds a photo of the hatchet that was used by a suspect to injure NYPD officers on Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Uli Seit

The hatchet attack on two NYPD officers from Long Island was a terrorist act carried out by a homegrown radical who converted to Islam and harbored extreme anti-government views, police said Friday.

"We at this time believe that he acted alone," Police Commissioner William Bratton said of the attacker, Zale Thompson, at a news briefing in Manhattan on Friday. "We would describe him as self-radicalized. We would describe him as self-directed in his activities."

Thompson, 32, struck Officer Kenneth Healey, 25, in the head with the hatchet and Officer Joseph Meeker, 24, in his arm in Jamaica, Queens, before police fatally shot him Thursday afternoon. Healey of Oceanside -- whose father is a veteran Nassau County police detective in the First Squad -- was in critical but stable condition Friday, while Meeker of Oakdale was released from the hospital, officials said.

A 29-year-old female bystander also was critically injured when a bullet fired by one of the officers struck her in her back. A police source said the woman may be left partially paralyzed.

Thompson left an extensive trail of online communications demonstrating "anti-Western, anti-government and in some cases anti-white" sentiments, but did not appear to have connections to international terror, said John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

He recently browsed websites related to extremist groups including Islamic State and al-Qaida, viewed content about beheadings, and read about Wednesday's shooting of a Canadian soldier by a gunman in Ottawa, which also is being investigated as a terrorist attack.

Thompson, who was involuntarily discharged from the Navy in the early 2000s, possibly because of drug use, was not on any terror watch lists and appeared to be a lone-wolf attacker radicalized on the Internet, police said.

"This was a terrorist attack, certainly," Bratton said.

Thompson had lived with his father until two days before the attack but moved out after an argument, police said.

He stayed at his mother's house near the site of the attack the night before the assault, police said. He converted to Islam about two years ago, police said, and had a history of domestic violence arrests in California. According to his father, he was a depressed loner who "spent extensive amount of time in his bedroom," Bratton said.

Police have seized Thompson's computer and other evidence, including a "weaponized ax and a very large hunting knife," said Robert Boyce, NYPD chief of detectives.

Online postings by Thompson were a mix of "anti-American, anti-U.S. foreign policy views coupled with a kind of black nationalist, revolutionary bent," said a police source with knowledge of the investigation.

In a recently posted YouTube video advocating an Islamic Caliphate, a commenter with Thompson's name wrote: "If the Zionists and the Crusaders had never invaded and colonized the Islamic lands after WW1, then there would be no need for Jihad! Which is better, to sit around and do nothing, or to Jihad."

An internal memo sent to NYPD personnel after the attack warned officers to maintain a heightened level of awareness in light of the attacks in Queens and Canada, and to conduct foot patrols in pairs.

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