Jacinda Ardern has pledged to fast-track counter-terrorism laws through New Zealand’s parliament this month following the Auckland supermarket attack.
On Friday, a Sri Lankan national known to security agencies injured seven people in a stabbing rampage before he was shot and killed by police.
Late on Saturday, the NZ High Court lifted a suppression order so that he could be named.
NZ media have reported him as Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, a refugee who Ms Ardern’s government attempted to deport.
Samsudeen injured seven people in his attack: stabbing five, while one suffered a dislocated shoulder and another received a minor injury as he evaded the terrorist.
The victims, four women and three men, include five aged over 50. Three remain critically injured in hospital.
Ms Ardern said she was “absolutely gutted” by the “despicable” attack, focusing on the victims and pledging not to say the terrorist’s name.
“We are all continuing to think of them and the traumatic experience they have been through,” she said.
The attack was carried out by the 32-year-old who settled in NZ in 2011.
Samsudeen featured on a terror watch list since posting pro-Islamic State comments on Facebook in 2016. Covert police were surveilling him around the clock since his release from jail in July.
On Friday, agents watched as Samsudeen took a train to the New Lynn Countdown supermarket, believing he was on a routine shopping trip.
Instead, after 10 minutes of shopping, he began a brutal attack.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says the man struck indiscriminately, stabbing “simply people who were nearby”.
The surveillance team, waiting outside the supermarket, realised the incident was happening roughly one minute after it began.
Mr Coster said they intervened after about another minute with “great bravery and professionalism”.
The attack has shocked Kiwis, with many asking whether it could have been prevented.
That question has two key strands.
Firstly, was everything done under current New Zealand law. Secondly, was the law up to scratch?
Ardern on the defensive
On the former, Ms Ardern insists her government “used every element and lever in the law that was available”.
“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,” she said.
Ms Ardern stepped through a detailed timeline of the man’s interaction with the judicial system and his criminal history, dating back to 2016.
The Crown attempted to charge him 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”.
That judgment openly questions whether the law was up to scratch.
Ms Ardern said she directed officials to “undertake further policy work on counter-terrorism legislation” in 2018.
“We immediately gave the nod for that work to be undertaken,” Ms Ardern said, pointedly saying “successive governments before us” did not.
“It is still really speculative to say that even that would have made a difference (for Friday’s attack).”
A royal commission into the devastating Christchurch Mosques terror attack of 2019, when 51 worshippers were killed by an Australian white nationalist, also recommended the counter-terror reform.
The legislation reached parliament this year 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 has pledged to pass the law by the end of the month.