“At about 2:40 this afternoon, a violent militant carried out a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference on Friday afternoon. “It’s a violent attack, it’s meaningless, and I’m sorry it happened.”
Ardern added that the man was a Sri Lankan national, a “supporter of the ISIS ideology” and a “known security threat.” She said he was under constant surveillance by several government agencies and that security personnel were able to shoot and kill him within 60 seconds of the attack.
The attacker found a knife inside the store and used it to stab shopkeepers before police shot him, New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coaster said, describing him as a lone actor. The man died on the spot.
Videos posted online Panicked shoppers walk out of the Lin Mall shopping center and look for cover as they watch the situation.
Six were injured and emergency crews said three were in critical condition. There were heavily armed police and ambulances at the scene and officers surrounded the surrounding streets.
Authorities say the attacker arrived in New Zealand in 2011 and became interested in October 2016.
Ordnance did not publicly share the man’s identity, he had previously faced court, and repressive orders prevented authorities from releasing specific information about him.
The prime minister said she “knew” him personally before the attack, and was monitoring him because authorities could not keep him in jail.
“I agree that questions arise as to whether the police can act faster or do more in this situation,” Coaster said. “I believe we have done everything we can in law … we are doing everything we can to monitor him. We were able to respond within 60 seconds.
Auckland is already in Level 4 lockdown due to coronavirus cases, the toughest level in the country – meaning most stores are closed and most people have to stay home. Supermarkets are open as an emergency service.
The Linmol-based supermarket chain Countdown was “devastated” by the attack in a statement.
“Our hearts are heavy when we know what our team and customers have seen and experienced,” the statement said.
New Zealand has been on high alert for attacks since March 15, 2019, when a white gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.
Asked if Friday’s attack could avenge the 2019 mosque shootings, Ardern said it was unclear. The person responsible for the violence was the only one, not the faith, she said.
“It’s hateful, it’s wrong. It was done by one person, not faith,” Ardern said. “He alone is responsible for these actions.”