New Zealand is reviewing its terror laws after a knife-wielding Sri Lankan man attacked shoppers at an Auckland supermarket before being shot dead by the police. Authorities said he was inspired by the Islamic State group.
The proposed New Zealand’s Counter Terror Legislation Bill would criminalize the planning of a terror attack.
It would close what critics have said is a loophole that has allowed suspected extremists to continue posing a threat. The attacker was under police surveillance but was recently released with a year-long probation. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Saturday that there is a plan to pass the new law by the end of this month.
Andrew Little, the minister responsible for the intelligence agencies, said in a statement to Parliament Tuesday that New Zealand must learn from the September 3rd Auckland supermarket attack and remain vigilant to keep the community safe.
“New Zealand was not immune to the threat of terrorist violence in March 2019,” he said, “and we are not immune now, and we will not be in the future.”
Andrew Geddis, a law professor at Otago University, says defining what constitutes the planning of a terrorist attack could be problematic.
“There may be other individuals out there like this guy that the legislation, this new provision, can be used to try to stop,” Geddis said. “The problem, of course, is that planning or preparing to do something can be quite a slippery concept, and so the worry is how far will this new offence stretch into people thinking about, talking about, writing about things that they may never actually do in practice.”
The Auckland supermarket attacker was identified as 32-year-old Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, according to court documents.
For more than four years, New Zealand had tried to deport and strip him of his refugee status, granted in 2013 following his arrival to the country 10 years ago. Prime Minister Ardern said the process had been “frustrating.” The attacker was a Tamil Muslim from Sri Lanka who arrived in New Zealand on a student visa and sought asylum.
In 2016, he was warned about posting violent pro-Islamic State group content online. He was later charged with various offences and spent three years in prison awaiting trial and was convicted but released on a supervision order in July.
Samsudeen’s family in Sri Lanka said he had “mental health problems,” suffers from “political torture at home” and that they were “heartbroken by this terrible event.”
The knife attack occurred despite the fact he was under constant surveillance since his release. Authorities said the rampage lasted less than a minute before he was shot dead by the police. Seven people were wounded and hospitalized, some in critical condition.
In March 2019, a self-confessed white supremacist murdered 51 worshippers at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.