After knife attack, New Zealand reviews counterterrorism efforts

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – When the man grabbed one of the knives at a Countdown supermarket in West Auckland on Friday and started stabbin...

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – When the man grabbed one of the knives at a Countdown supermarket in West Auckland on Friday and started stabbing shoppers, police were just outside.

They had followed him there. They had been following him for months, since his release from prison. Senior New Zealand government officials were aware of the existence of the man, who is said to be an Islamic State sympathizer, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who had received information about his case.

He was considered so dangerous that the very day he injured seven people at the supermarket and was shot by the police, Ms Ardern’s government had tried to speed up anti-terrorism legislation in parliament, to give law enforcement officials a legal way to return him to detention.

“The agencies have used every tool at their disposal to protect innocent people from this individual,” Ms Ardern said of the man, whose name had not yet been released, at a press conference Saturday. “All legal avenues have been tried,” she added.

Yet political opposition and some members of the public are questioning why the man, a Sri Lankan national in his 30s, had not been deported if authorities viewed him as a danger to the public. Three of those injured in the attack were in critical condition on Saturday.

“This is an Islamic State-inspired terrorist who for some reason was part of the New Zealand community,” Opposition Leader Judith Collins said Friday evening in a Twitter post. . “You have to ask questions and answer how this violent, hate-motivated offender was allowed to enter the community freely.”

New Zealand, a country with low and declining crime rates far from hotbeds of global terror, was once unaccustomed to such questions. But they increased in volume after anti-Muslim terrorist murdered 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch city in 2019.

Today, the country, like others, is grappling with trade-offs between monitoring suspects and preventing terrorist attacks, and with concerns about limited government and police power to monitor and control. detain people on the basis of suspicion.

Although the name of the supermarket attacker has still not been released, more information about him became available after a court lifted a removal order on Friday evening.

Ms Ardern said on Saturday the man was arrested at Auckland Airport in 2017 on suspicion of planning to travel to Syria to join the militant group Islamic State, which then controlled parts of Syria and Iraq.

He spent three years in prison on various charges, including assaulting a correctional officer, before being released in July. Ms Ardern said that as her release date approached officials grew increasingly concerned. She said he could not be confined to a mental health facility, having refused a psychological assessment.

In late August, she said, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster and other officials recommended speeding up amendments to New Zealand’s counterterrorism laws that were already making their way into parliament. The legislation, originally introduced as part of a broader review of anti-terrorism laws, includes a provision that would make planning a terrorist attack a criminal offense – fill a gap in the law that a court called “Achilles heel” in a decision on the man’s case in July 2020.

“Within 48 hours of these discussions, the Minister of Justice contacted the chairman of the select committee with the intention of speeding up this change in law,” Ms. Ardern said. “It was yesterday, the very day of the attack.

Mr Coster, the police commissioner, told the press conference that the man has been under constant surveillance since his release, with up to 30 police officers sometimes monitoring his behavior. He said the man believed he was being watched and confronted members of the public, asking if they were following him.

Mr Coster said there had been “nothing unusual” about the man’s activities on Friday before he arrived at the supermarket. Armed officers were outside the store when the attack began – an indication of how dangerous the man was, as New Zealand police rarely carry guns.

Mr Coster said officers did not follow the man into the supermarket because, under Covid restrictions, relatively few people were inside. This meant the officers would have been much more visible and could have been compromised, he said. A member of the elite special tactics group killed the man within three minutes of the attack starting, he said.

Ms Ardern praised the police response. “He was a very motivated person who used a visit to the supermarket as a shield for an attack,” she said. “It’s an incredibly difficult set of circumstances.”

Countdown and three other New Zealand supermarket chains said after the attack they would suspend the sale of sharp knives. Countdown said it will also temporarily stop selling scissors.

Ms Ardern said her government intended to pass the anti-terrorism amendments by the end of the month. Opposition lawmakers said they would support the changes, although they asked for more information on why the attacker had not been kicked out.

Some details of the man’s immigration status have yet to be released, Ms Ardern said. She also said her name could not be released until at least Saturday evening, to give her family time to challenge the court’s decision to lift its removal order.

Ms Ardern said she would not use the man’s name in public, a rule she applied to the Christchurch shooter. “No terrorist, living or dead, deserves his name to be shared for the infamy he sought,” she said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: After knife attack, New Zealand reviews counterterrorism efforts
After knife attack, New Zealand reviews counterterrorism efforts
Newsrust - US Top News
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