NEW YORK — A man who brazenly attacked a group of police officers with a hatchet on a busy street described himself as a Muslim convert and ranted online against America, but he had no clear ties to international terrorism, police said Friday.
Police were still examining the computer of Zale Thompson for clues about a motive for the Thursday assault that left one of the officers seriously injured and ended with Thompson being shot dead by police. They also were trying to determine if he had any history of mental illness.
Thompson, 32, had once served in the U.S. Navy and had a history of run-ins with the law over domestic violence in California in 2003 and 2004, police said. In recent postings on social media, he ranted about injustices in American society and oppression abroad, but the postings didn’t point to any affiliation with a terror group or direct influence of radical Islam, they said.
Asked on Thursday if the attack could be related to terrorism, Police Commissioner William Bratton didn’t rule it out. He cited the fatal shooting of a soldier in Canada earlier this week — what officials there have called a terror attack — as reason for concern that New York City could experience similar trouble.
“This early on, we really cannot say yes or no to that question,” Bratton said Thursday.
Security video and witness accounts appeared to leave no doubt that Thompson purposely targeted four rookie New York Police Department officers who were in uniform and on foot patrol in a bustling Queens commercial district.
Moments before the attack, the bearded suspect was seen on a street corner crouching down to pull the hatchet out of backpack before he charged the officers and began swinging the hatchet with a two-handed grip, police said.
At the time, the officers were posing for a photo for a passerby. Without a word, Thompson swung at an officer who blocked the blow with his arm, police said. Another officer was hit in the back of the head and fell to the ground.
As the suspect raised the hatchet again, the two uninjured officers drew their weapons and fired several rounds, police said. The bullets killed the assailant and wounded a female bystander, police said. A bloody hatchet, about 18 inches long, was recovered.
Officer Kenneth Healey remained hospitalized on Friday with a head wound. The bystander also was being treated for a gunshot wound to the back.