A knife-wielding extremist injured six people, several of them critically, at an Auckland, New Zealand grocery store on Friday before being shot dead by police, in what authorities are describing as an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack.
The Sri Lankan national was a known security threat and under “constant” police surveillance at the time of the attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters.
Law enforcement officials had followed the man to the store, and were trailing him when he grabbed a knife from the shelves and began attacking customers. He was shot and killed by police “within the space of roughly 60 seconds of the attack starting,” Ardern 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,” Andrew Coster, the country’s top police official, said.
The prime minister said she was aware of the attacker before Friday’s attack but that he could not have been legally detained. Details of why authorities regarded him as a person of “national security interest” are suppressed by a court order. Authorities believe he was a “lone actor" and are not looking for anyone else in relation to the incident.
“What happened today was despicable. 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.”
The attacker was “running around like a lunatic," Michelle Miller, who was in the store when the incident occurred, told Stuff, a New Zealand news website. “He was attacking people. All I heard was a lot of screaming.”
Other witnesses told local media they saw an elderly man with a stab wound to his abdomen and a woman with a shoulder wound.
Coster, the police commissioner, said authorities had no advance intelligence that the man was going to carry out Friday’s attack. “He appeared to be undertaking a normal shopping expedition,” he said.
Violent incidents in the island nation of 5 million people are rare. New Zealand tightened gun laws in 2019, less than 24 hours after an Australian man opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch and killed 51 worshipers with weapons that included an assault rifle. The Christchurch incidents were the worst attacks on civilians in the country’s modern history. The killer, whose name Ardern urged people not to use, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in August 2020.
The Washington Post