Police in New Zealand say they were so concerned about the threat posed by one “violent extremist” that they were following him on what appeared to be a routine trip Friday to a supermarket in Auckland, the country’s largest city.
When he instead launched a frenzied stabbing attack, authorities said, they shot and killed the man within 60 seconds — but not before he injured six people.
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In a news conference, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the incident as a terrorist attack and said the man was inspired by the Islamic State group. She said he was a Sri Lankan national who came to New Zealand in 2011 and had been monitored constantly since 2016 as a “known security threat.”
Ardern did not reveal the man’s identity but added that she had been personally briefed about him before. There had been no legal reason for him to be detained, she said.
“This was a violent attack, it was senseless, and I am so sorry it happened,” she said.
Three of those who had been stabbed were seriously injured, Ardern added.
The attack took place in the early afternoon local time Friday — about 10:40 p.m. ET Thursday — at a Countdown supermarket in Auckland, on New Zealand’s north island.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the individual was “under heavy surveillance” due to concerns about his ideology. Surveillance and tactical teams had followed the man from his home in the Auckland suburb Glen Eden to the supermarket, he added.
“He entered the store, as he had done before. He obtained a knife from within the store,” Coster said, adding that the surveillance teams were as close as they could be.
Two police from the special tactics group rushed over to him when the commotion started, Coster said. The man approached police with the knife and so they shot and killed him within 60 seconds of the attack starting, according to Coster.
Coster acknowledged that the incident “raises questions” about whether police could have done more, but added that he was “satisfied” with how the situation was handled.
“The staff involved did not only what we expect they would do in this situation, but did it with great courage,” he said.
One dramatic video posted to social media showed people in the supermarket seconds after the attack struck.
“There’s someone here with a knife… he’s got a knife,” a woman can be heard saying. “Somebody got stabbed.”
One witness, Amit Nand, said that he had seen the attacker and told him to drop the knife just before police arrived, Reuters reported, citing the Newshub outlet.
“This undercover cop came to me… I was going to hit him…. The cop is like ‘get back’ and he started shooting him,” Nand said.
Some shoppers also tried to help the injured by grabbing towels, diapers and whatever else they could find from the shelves.
“To everyone who was there and who witnessed such a horrific event, I can’t imagine how they will be feeling in the aftermath,” Ardern said. “But thank you for coming to the aid of those who needed you when they needed you.”
Auckland is under a a strict lockdown as it battles an outbreak of the coronavirus driven by the delta variant. Most businesses are shut and people are generally only allowed to leave their homes to buy groceries, for medical needs, and exercise.
New Zealand has been on alert for attacks after a white supremacist gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch on March 15, 2019 — of of the country’s deadliest attacks.
The massacre prompted a significant tightening of New Zealand’s gun laws, and Ardern was heavily praised for her compassionate response.
At the news conference Friday, Adern stressed that the man alone, and not a faith, was responsible for the attack.
“It was hateful, it was wrong. It was carried out by an individual, not a faith,” she said. “He alone carries the responsibility for these acts.”