New Lynn terror attack: Experts say risk of follow-up violence is low, urge Kiwis to 'challenge' extremist ideas

An expert in terrorism and extremism says the risk of copycat or "tit-for-tat attacks from the other side" following Friday's stabbings in New Lynn is low.

Chris Wilson of the University of Auckland says much more likely is "lower-level intimidation and violence and abuse against the Muslim community".

Six people were stabbed by a man known to have sympathies for terror group Islamic State at a west Auckland supermarket on Friday. Luckily police had been following him, and shot him dead within a minute of the attack starting. None of the victims are known to have died at the time of writing.

"When there have been Islamist terror attacks overseas there often is a period afterwards where there is a sense of revenge and intimidation against Muslims on the street and in the community," Dr Wilson told Newshub Nation on Saturday. 

The attacker was known to police, having previously pleaded guilty of possessing Islamic State (also known as ISIS) material. He first came to their attention in 2016 after posting pro-ISIS material on social media. The Crown tried to charge him with planning a terror attack, but the court denied the application because a loophole in the law meant it technically wasn't a crime.

Dr Wilson said while we "can't get inside the perpetrator's head… almost certainly he was inspired by ISIS and to take revenge for what he sees as the killing of innocent Muslims overseas", as well as "send a message to Western societies that your government can't keep you safe, and to send a message to Western governments… they shouldn't be attacking Muslims overseas." 

While other Western nations have suffered greatly at the hands of ISIS-inspired terrorists, this is believed to be New Zealand's first attack by someone radicalised by the group. The man moved here in 2011 but didn't appear to have any extremist views until years later, suggesting he may have been radicalised over the internet.

"It does I think bring home to all of us we're not invulnerable as a society to people with such hateful and extremist views," Robert Patman, professor of politics and director of international studies at the University of Otago, told Newshub.

"These people can be radicalised without any physical contact with the organisation they support. People can be radicalised  through the internet and social media." 

While Dr Wilson says New Zealand was "lucky" police were trailing him so closely, he hopes the backlash doesn't result in "the banning of more objects because terrorists generally will just change their mode of operations and choose another weapon".

After the attack in Christchurch in 2019 which left more than 50 dead, the Government tightened gun laws - including paying gun owners to hand in their weapons. 

Knives are of course far more common - the terrorist reportedly used one he grabbed off the shelf in the supermarket where the attack took place. 

"It's more to do with the legal framework that we need to be addressing at the moment… One thing I'll say is I think we're quite lucky that this person, this perpetrator was so open about his views and intentions, and security agencies and the police were able to be on hand to prevent him doing more damage," said Dr Wilson.  

"Governments can only operate within the framework of the law, and if the law stipulated that this individual was to be released from prison, then they have to work with that - hence the surveillance," said Dr Patman. 

Both said they hoped Kiwis would renew their efforts to shut down extremist views wherever possible, before they spread.

"Those people who preach racial intolerance and preach violence within society, we need to make sure that their views get challenged," said Dr Patman. "You can't stop people believing in these things, but you can much reduce the chances of it by trying to take on the ideologies that inspire it. 

"When you see people engaging in hateful activity, challenge them. I know it's difficult - it's much more convenient to turn the other way. I think New Zealand's good at this stuff, but as a country we're not immune from terrorist violence."

Dr Wilson said to combat the ideas, but understand the risk in New Zealand is low compared to many other nations. 

"The numbers who subscribe to that ideology are small. We're not completely talking insignificant and tiny numbers I would imagine, but in terms of the numbers from within that group of supporters of those kinds of ideologies who actually go on to commit violence is very, very small in New Zealand society… It's the nature of most Western democracies, advanced economies, that the surveillance capacity means it's very, very difficult for small cells of terrorist organisations to develop and to operate and to carry out operations. Almost all terrorism is conducted by lone actors." 

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