New Zealand’s anti-terrorism legislation is coming into sharp review following the shocking Auckland supermarket terrorist attack.
On Friday, a Sri Lankan national known to security agencies injured at least six people in a stabbing rampage.
The man is reportedly 32 years old, settled in New Zealand in 2011 and has featured on a terror watch list since 2016.
Covert police from the specialist tactics group assigned to surveil the man day and night intervened after around 60 seconds, ending the attack.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was “absolutely gutted” by the “despicable” attack, apologising to victims.
As of late Friday night, three people were in a critical condition among six victims being treated in Auckland hospitals.
The attack raises questions as to whether security agencies did enough to protect Kiwis from such an attack — and whether more could be done to improve New Zealand’s anti-terrorism laws.
Both Ms Ardern and Police Commissioner Andrew Coster were adamant they exercised all powers available to them.
“We used every element and lever it in the law that was available,” Ms Ardern said.
“Of all of the tools that we have, constant monitoring and surveillance – outside of someone being imprisoned – is one of the strongest that we have, and that is what was attached to this individual.”
Reports from Stuff and the NZ Herald allege the Crown attempted to charge the man last year with attempted terrorism under the Terror Suppression Act, only for a judge to decline their application.
In the judgment, Justice Downs said “it is not open to the court to create an offence … the issue is for parliament”.
The NZ Herald reports the man was instead prosecuted on lesser charges and was found guilty on May 26 this year of possessing propaganda-style material supportive of Islamic State.
The newspaper states that a report prepared for his sentencing in July this year warned the man had “the means and motivation to commit violence in the community”.
He was sentenced to one year of supervision, which was to be served at a West Auckland mosque, says the NZ Herald.
Parliament is now considering new legislation, which was recommended by the Royal Commission into the 2019 Christchurch mosques terrorism attacks.
Following the Royal Commission’s report released last December, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill was introduced by Justice Minister Kris Faafoi in April, and passed its first reading in May.
Massey University terror expert John Battersby described the pace of reform as “pedestrian”.
“We have lulled ourselves into a false sense of security that Christchurch was an abhorrent action … we need to look at the powers and resources that our intelligence agencies have,” he told Newstalk ZB.
Ms Ardern said it was “purely speculative” to suggest whether the law changes might have prevented or changed Friday’s attack.
Challenged on whether there were other ISIS-motivated extremists in the community, Ms Ardern said there were “very, very few”: all who were under tight watch.
“It would not be appropriate for me to start numbering off for New Zealand’s national security to start doing that but it is very few people.”
Authorities believe the man was acting on his own, and Mr Coster said he did not believe there was a further threat to New Zealanders.