A New Zealand supermarket stabbing inspired by the Islamic State was placed under police surveillance for five years and jailed for three years before authorities exhausted all means to keep him in custody, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed Saturday.
The perpetrator, a 32-year-old Sri Lankan, was released from prison in July and has been under police surveillance since.
On Friday, he pulled out a knife displayed in a supermarket in Auckland and attacked seven people, three of whom were seriously injured, before being shot by armed police who were watching him.
Ardern was unable to provide details on the reasons why the attacker was not deported due to a court ruling prohibiting the disclosure of specific information about him, but she confirmed the start of measures that would strengthen New Zealand’s anti-terrorism laws.
The man, who arrived in New Zealand in 2011 on a student visa, was put under a police microscope in 2016 after expressing on Facebook sympathy for terrorist attacks.
He was arrested in 2018 for possession of a knife and leaflets, and prosecutors considered him a “lone wolf” planning to carry out a knife attack.
During his arrest, he was charged with assaulting guards, but attempts to charge him under New Zealand’s anti-terror laws were unsuccessful.
Although he was found guilty on some counts, he was sentenced to three years in pretrial detention and “all avenues to continue his arrest had been exhausted,” Ardern announced, knowing that “risk mitigation measures were well under way.”
Ardern added that Parliament is expected to ratify the amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act in New Zealand before the end of the year.
“In late August, officials, including the commissioner of police, raised the possibility of speeding up the amendments,” she said.
Many of the details related to the perpetrator of the Friday attack, including his name, were not disclosed under a previous court ruling.
Although a judge lifted the ban late Friday, his family was given at least 24 hours to object to the “disclosure of some information,” Ardern said.
“While I can provide details regarding his criminal past, there are issues regarding his immigration status and the actions taken by the New Zealand immigration authorities in particular, which I cannot share yet,” she added.
Police Chief Andrew Coster said there was nothing unusual in the man’s behavior in the lead-up to the attack, and he appeared to be shopping normally at the store.
Because he was “extremely disturbed” when under surveillance, Coster said, the police monitored him from afar, and it took them more than two minutes to reach him and shoot him after he carried out the stabbing.
“We had no legal justification for arresting this person,” Koster said. Monitoring his work was completely dependent on the monitoring teams and their ability to keep their work secret, as they had been watching him for a long time.”
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