NEW YORK: Two New York police officers were shot dead in broad daylight as they sat in a patrol car by an assailant who then killed himself, officials and reports said.
“Today, two of New York’s finest were shot and killed with no warning, no provocation,” police commissioner Bill Bratton told a news conference. “They were quite simply assassinated.”
The two officers were “ambushed and murdered” — shot in the head — as they sat in the front two seats of a marked NYPD police car, Bratton said.
The motive for the attack was under investigation but there were no indications so far of any connection to terrorism, Bratton said.
The officers had been assigned to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood to address complaints of violence around housing projects in the area.
Bratton named the assailant as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley. He walked up to the car and fired his weapon several times through the passenger window, according to Bratton.
Neither officer had the opportunity to draw their weapons and may never even have seen their assailant.
Brinsley then fled on foot and entered a nearby subway station.
“While on the platform, Brinsley shot himself in the head. Took his own life. A silver semi-automatic firearm was recovered on the subway platform near the suspect’s body,” said Bratton.
The shootings, just days before Christmas, follow weeks of protests condemning a series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers and decisions by grand juries not to prosecute those responsible.
The two officers were shot at 2:50 pm (1950 GMT) at the corner of Myrtle and Tompkins avenues in Brooklyn’s gentrifying neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, police spokesman Sergeant Lee Jones told AFP.
Various city police precincts wrote messages on Twitter offering condolences and prayers for their fallen colleagues.
“My thoughts are with the families of the NYPD officers shot in the line of duty, in an act of horrific violence,” wrote New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “We all mourn this tragedy.”
“People are pretty shaken up,” eyewitness Mike Isaacs told CNN.
“The mood is pretty freaked out, you know, a few people were saying it could be anyone.”
Local media said the shooter boasted on his purported Instagram account just hours before the attack that he would kill police officers.
“They Take 1 Of Ours… Let’s Take 2 of Theirs,” read a comment next to a photo of a silver handgun, referencing the deaths at the hands of police of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
Garner, an unarmed father of six, died after police held him in a chokehold while he was being arrested for selling illegal cigarettes in New York last July.
Brown, an 18-year-old in the Ferguson suburb of St Louis, Missouri, was shot dead by a police officer in August, sparking months of protests.
Grand jury decisions not to indict either white officer responsible triggered mass protests in New York and other US cities.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who has used Garner and Brown’s deaths to campaign for sweeping police reform, said he was outraged by Saturday’s killings.
He said his National Action Network saw non-violence as the only way to fight for justice.
“An eye for an (eye) leaves the whole world blind. We all at NAN express our prayers and condolences to the families of the 2 NYC officers,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I heard shooting — four or five shots,” Derrick McKie, 49, told the New York Post. “It sounded like from a single gun,” he said.
“I seen them putting the cop in the ambulance. He looked messed up,” added McKie, a barber. “He took a high-caliber weapon to the face. He was lifeless.
Widespread dissatisfaction in relations between police and blacks have been inflamed not just by the Brown and Garner deaths.
Last month, a rookie police officer fatally shot Akai Gurley, an unarmed 28-year-old black man, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn apartment building.
A 12-year-old black boy holding a toy gun was also shot dead by police officers in a playground in Ohio in November.
“It’s been sort of strange around here. Pretty tense since the protests have been occurring in New York City,” said Isaacs, the witness.
“And so, you know, everyone’s pretty shaken up and just trying to figure out what happened.”