New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday pledged to tighten anti-terrorism laws this month after a knife-wielding militant known to authorities stabbed and injured seven people in a supermarket.
Police shot and killed the 32-year-old assailant, a Sri Lankan national who was sentenced and imprisoned for about three years before his release in July, shortly after he started stabbing on Friday.
Ardern previously said the man was inspired by the Islamic State militant group and is under constant surveillance, but can no longer be held in jail according to the law.
“I undertake that as soon as Parliament is resumed, we will complete this work – that is, to work on getting the law passed as soon as possible and by the end of this month at the latest,” said Ardern at a press conference.
The Anti-Terror Law Act criminalizes planning and preparation that could lead to terrorist attacks and closes what critics have called a loophole that allows conspirators to stay free.
But Ardern said it wasn’t fair to assume that the stricter law would have made any difference in this case.
“That was a highly motivated person who used a visit to the supermarket as a shield for an attack. These are incredibly difficult circumstances, ”she said.
Ardern said the attacker was caught by police in 2016 for supporting a violent ideology inspired by Islamic State.
Police followed the man as he entered the Countdown supermarket at New Lynn Shopping Center in Auckland. They said they thought he went shopping, but he took a knife from a display and started stabbing people.
Police said they shot him within a minute of the attack starting.
Ardern said the man came to New Zealand on a student visa in 2011 and did not hold any extreme views.
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Police became aware of him in 2016 after he posted his condolences on Facebook for militant attacks, violent war-related videos and comments advocating violent extremism.
In May 2017, he was arrested at Auckland Airport where authorities believed he was traveling to Syria. He was charged after restricted publications and a hunting knife were discovered at his home but was released on bail.
In August 2018, he bought another knife and was arrested and imprisoned. He was released to the community in July this year when surveillance began, Ardern said.
Ardern was briefed on the case in late July and late August, and officials, including the police commissioner, have raised the possibility of an expedited amendment to anti-terrorism legislation.
Ardern said she wanted to explain why the attacker was not deported but could not because doing so would violate judicial repression orders, which also prevented her from identifying him, she said.
But she said she had no intention of calling him by name anyway.
“No terrorist, alive or dead, deserves to share his name for the shame he sought,” she said.
New Zealand supermarket group Countdown said Saturday it took knives and scissors off their shelves while wondering whether to keep selling them.
“We want our entire team to feel safe when they come to work,” said Kiri Hannifin, general manager for security at Countdown, in a media release.
Other supermarket chains have also taken sharp knives from their shelves, the media reported.