Police Probe Ax Attacks on Cops in D.C., NYC for Potential Link

The NYPD is working with authorities in Washington, D.C., to determine if there's a connection between an ax on a police officer in the U.S. capital Friday and a similar attack on a group of New York cops last week.

John Miller, the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counter-terrorism, said there is nothing to indicate at this time that Zale Thompson, the suspect shot dead after assaulting a group of rookie officers with a hatchet on a Queens street last Thursday, communicated with anyone else prior to the attack.

In the D.C. attack, a man smashed a marked police officer's car on the driver's side with an ax. The officer wasn't hit by it, but hurt his shoulder when he tried to tackle the suspect. The suspect got away.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier described the attack as an ambush. She stressed there was no immediate evidence linking the attack to any broader plot or to last week's New York City attack, but like Miller, said police weren't ruling out that possibility.

"A lot of these radical organizations, terrorist organizations are very vocal about targeting first responders. It's no secret. It's not new. But it certainly has ramped up," Lanier said. "We're on extremely high alert."

Lanier said she spoke with Miller to go over any investigative details that might be helpful. The NYPD also renewed a directive cautioning the force to not patrol on foot alone. No such directive was issued in Washington.

The officer spotted the man briefly before the attack and believed he was carrying a baseball bat, Lanier said. The officer drove into an alley in an attempt to follow him but did not see the man again until the ax hit the car, Lanier said.

The officer chased the man and tackled him and was injured in the struggle, police said.

Police don't have a good description of the man, and Lanier said investigators were pursuing 30 to 40 leads, including some generated by tips from the public. The FBI offered help with the investigation if needed.

The suspect in the New York City ax attack has been described by authorities as "self-radicalized." They say it appeared terror was Thompson's "intent" in attacking the officers. One was badly hurt after Thompson hit him with a hatchet in the head; that officer was released from the hospital Thursday. A second officer whose arm was cut was treated at a hospital and released shortly after the attack.

Thompson's activity on social media indicated he was a convert to Islam and included rants about injustices in American society and oppression abroad but offered no clear evidence of any direct affiliation with terror groups or other individuals, police said.

Thompson charged a group of four officers with the 18-inch hatchet as they posed for a picture by a freelance photographer on a Jamaica street corner, striking two of them. The two other officers who were not yet opened fire, killing Thompson.

Thompson had six prior arrests in California in 2003 and 2004, mostly on domestic charges, authorities said. His only point of contact with the NYPD was in 1998 -- as a victim of assault. Thompson was involuntarily discharged from the military in 2003 after a three-year stint, possibly because of drugs, officials said. An ax and a hunting knife were recovered from his home.  

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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