Police in New Zealand fatally shot a Sri Lankan man who was a “known security threat” after he stabbed six people inside an Auckland grocery store on Friday afternoon. The man, who has not been named, had been under police surveillance and was a “supporter of ISIS ideology,” according to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
“This afternoon at approximately 2:40 p.m., a violent extremist undertook a terrorist attack,” Ardern confirmed to reporters. “This was a violent attack, it was senseless, and I am so sorry it happened.”
Police had the man under surveillance when he entered the grocery store and it took them less than a minute to respond, but not before he was able to grab a knife from a display case and stab at least six people, New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said Friday. A witness inside the store told Reuters that the man was shopping and then grabbed a knife and started “running around like a lunatic” stabbing people.
Three of the injured are currently in critical condition, Coster said.
The man had been resident in New Zealand since 2011 and caught the attention of police in Oct. 2016, Ardern said. He had been in court multiple times but a suppression order tied to ongoing court cases made it impossible for her to name him. Ardern told reporters that she had been made aware of the perpetrator in the past, but that he had not committed a crime punishable by prison.
“I acknowledge this situation poses questions about whether police could have acted faster or done more,” Coster told reporters at a Friday press conference. “I am confident we have done everything we can within the law... we were doing everything we could to monitor him. The fact we were able to react within 60 seconds shows that.”
When asked if the attack could have been tied to the March 2019 mosque shootings that killed 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, Ardern said the man acted alone and that his faith could not be blamed. “It was hateful, it was wrong. It was carried out by an individual, not a faith,” Ardern said. “He alone carries the responsibility for these acts. It would be wrong to direct any frustration to anyone beyond this individual.”
The attack comes as Auckland battles rising COVID cases. The grocery store where the incident took place was one of the few stores open due to a Level 4 lockdown.