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.
Law enforcement officials had followed the man to the supermarket 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 incident 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.”
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.
The attacker was “running around like a lunatic,” Michelle Miller, who was in the Countdown store at Lynn Mall 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.
The prime minister praised bystanders who came to the aid of the stabbing victims.
Friday’s attack came as more than 1.7 million people in Auckland remained under stringent coronavirus restrictions amid concerns about the delta variant. The restrictions are expected to stay in place for another two weeks as officials work to contain the spread of infection. Under current rules, people can only leave their homes to get a coronavirus test, exercise locally or to shop for essentials such as medicine and groceries.
The country was placed into full nationwide lockdown Aug. 17, after new cases of the delta variant were recorded. Those in areas outside of Auckland are under a less restrictive lockdown.
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 deadliest attacks on civilians in the country’s modern history. The killer, whose name Ardern has urged people not to use, was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in August 2020.