New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says an attack at Auckland’s New Lynn Countdown supermarket today was a terrorist attack carried out by a violent extremist.
The prime minister and Police Commissioner Andrew Coster addressed media after the man was shot dead at a west Auckland mall this afternoon.
It is understood six people – all shoppers at the mall – have been wounded in the incident at LynnMall in New Lynn.
A St John Ambulance spokesperson said three patients in a critical condition and one patient in a serious condition had been taken to Auckland City Hospital; one patient in a moderate condition had been taken to Waitakere hospital; and one patient in a moderate condition had been taken to Middlemore Hospital.
Ardern revealed the terrorist was a Sri Lankan national who had arrived in New Zealand in October 2011 and he became a person of national security interest from 2016.
The reasons he was known to agencies was subject to suppression orders, but Ardern said it was her view that it was in the public interest to share as much information as possible.
The prime minister did say the terrorist held a violent ideology inspired by the Islamic State, but it would be wrong to direct any frustration at anyone other than this individual.
She said she was personally aware of the terrorist before today’s attack.
Ardern said it was a senseless attack and she was sorry it had happened.
“What happened today was despicable. It was carried out by an individual.”
Ardern said the individual was under constant monitoring, and he was shot and killed within 60 seconds of the attack starting.
The police team who was monitoring shot and killed him.
Commissioner Coster said the man had been under heavy surveillance because of concerns about his ideology.
He had entered the store and obtained a knife from within the store before starting the attack.
When the man approached police with the knife he was shot and killed.
Surveillance teams ‘close’
Coster said the surveillance teams were “as close as they possibly could be without compromising the surveillance”.
“I acknowledge that this situation raises questions about whether police could have done more, whether police could have intervened more quickly. I’m satisfied based on the information available to me that the staff involved did not only what we expect they would do in this situation, but did it with great courage,” he said.
“The reality is, that when you are surveilling someone on a 24/7 basis, it is not possible to be immediately next to them at all times. The staff intervened as quickly as they could and they prevented further injury in what was a terrifying situation,” Coster said.
Ardern said all legal and surveillance power had been used to try to keep people safe from this individual.
“What I can say is that we have utilised every legal and surveillance power available to us to try and keep people safe from this individual. Many agencies and people were involved and all were motivated by the same thing – trying to keep people safe.”
He said the individual was very surveillance-conscious, and surveillance teams needed to maintain a distance to be effective.
intervened ‘in 60 seconds’
“There was nothing to prevent him being in the community and we were doing absolutely everything possible to monitor him and indeed the fact that we were able to intervene so quickly — in roughly 60 seconds — shows just how closely we were watching him.”
Ardern said the local Muslim community had been “nothing but helpful and supportive. It would be wrong to direct any frustration to anyone beyond this individual. That is who is culpable, that is who is responsible — no one else”.
She said his past behaviour and action did not reach the threshold to have him in in prison, which was why he was being constantly monitored.
An eyewitness told RNZ she had seen a man running around armed with a knife and heard many people screaming.
Another shopper who was in the supermarket at the time heard someone scream before shoppers started running towards the door.
Heavily armed police and ambulances remain at the scene.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.