PHILADELPHIA (REUTERS) - A gunman claiming to have pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants shot and seriously wounded a Philadelphia police officer in an ambush on his patrol car, the city’s police commissioner said on Friday.
Edward Archer of Philadelphia approached Officer Jesse Hartnett, 33, shortly before midnight and fired 11 rounds, three of which hit the officer in his arm, authorities said.
Police released still images from surveillance video that showed the gunman dressed in a long white robe walking toward the car and firing, eventually getting close enough to shoot directly through the window.
Hartnett chased Archer, who was arrested by responding officers and later confessed to the attack, saying he had carried it out “in the name of Islam,” police officials told reporters.
“He has confessed to committing this cowardly act in the name of Islam,” Ross told a press conference, adding that the 30-year-old assailant also referenced ISIS militants.
Philadelphia Police Captain James Clark added, “He said he pledges his allegiance to Islamic State, he follows Allah and that was the reason he was called on to do this.”
However, a senior official at the largest US Muslim advocacy group said the gunman did not appear to be a mosque-going Muslim.
“At this hour, it does not appear that he was an observant or mosque-going Muslim” in the local community, said Jacob Bender, executive director of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“I’ve called numerous imams and mosques to try to see if the name rings a bell with anyone. So far it hasn’t,” he told Reuters in an interview.
US officials have been on high security alert following a series of ISIS-linked attacks at home and abroad over the last few months.
In November, gunman and suicide bombers affiliated with ISIS killed 130 people in a series of coordinated attacks in Paris. Last month, a married couple fatally shot 14 people in San Bernardino, California, in an attack inspired by ISIS militants.
Those concerns have led to calls by some Republican governors and presidential hopefuls to restrict the admission of Syrian refugees fleeing that country’s long civil war.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat sworn in on Monday, told reporters he did not believe Archer’s actions reflected Islamic thinking.
“In no way shape or form does anyone in this room believe that what was done represents Islam,” Kenney said. “This was done by a criminal with a stolen gun.”
NO SIGN OF CONSPIRACY
There was no evidence as yet that the shooter had worked with anyone else, Ross said.
“He was savvy enough to stop just short of implicating himself in a conspiracy,” Ross said. “He doesn’t appear to be a stupid individual, just an extremely violent one.”
About a dozen FBI agents and city detectives could be seen on Friday afternoon searching a two-storey row house in a working class West Philadelphia neighbourhood where Archer was believed to have stayed at times. The house was about two blocks away from the intersection where Hartnett was shot.
Archer has a criminal history. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to assault and carrying an unlicensed gun, charges that got him a prison sentence of between nine and 23 months.
Archer’s mother told the Philadelphia Inquirer that her son, the oldest of seven children, had suffered head injuries from football and a moped accident and recently began acting erratically.
“He’s been acting kind of strange lately. He’s been talking to himself,” and hearing voices, the newspaper quoted Valerie Holliday as saying. “We asked him to get medical help.”
Hartnett was taken to Penn Presbyterian Hospital and will require several surgeries for three gunshot wounds in his arm.
“We’re just lucky, that’s all I can say,” Ross told reporters. “I can’t even believe that he was able to survive this.”
The shooter used a gun that had been stolen from a Philadelphia police officer’s home several years ago, but not by the shooter, Ross said.
“We know it was stolen, how many hands it may have passed through in the last couple of years, we do not know,” Ross said.
In New York City, where two police officers were shot dead in their patrol car in a December 2014 attack by a man angry over police killings of unarmed black men, the police department issued a memorandum urging officers to “exercise heightened vigilance and implement proactive measures” in light of the Philadelphia shooting.
“Those who carry out attacks in the name of ISIS or any other terrorist organisation must be fully prosecuted,” said US Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. “We have to take every appropriate step to safeguard our communities and ensure safety.”