PM, police defend themselves after 'closely monitored' person on watchlist carries out terrorist attack

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Police Commissioner have been forced to explain why a man under "closely monitored" surveillance was able to carry out a terrorist attack in Auckland on Friday afternoon. 

Police shot and killed the man after he entered the LynnMall Countdown in west Auckland with a knife just after 2pm and injured six people. 

The man - who was on a terror watchlist - carried out the "ISIS-inspired" attack and injured  three critically, one seriously, and two moderately. 

In a press conference on Friday evening Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the Sri Lanakn national was being watched but officials were cautious not to compromise their position.

"This individual is very surveillance-conscience and surveillance teams working with an offender over an extended period of weeks need to maintain sufficient distance for that surveillance to be effective so they were as close as they possibly could be without compromising the surveillance," Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told media . 

Jacinda Ardern explained there was no indication the man, who moved to New Zealand in 2011 and was placed on a terror watchlist in 2016, was going to carry out the attack. 

"This is someone that has been closely monitored and so as the Commissioner has said, there was nothing that we were aware of at this point in time to indicate that what he was going to do today was going to happen today but obviously because he was being closely followed and watched they were there at the vicinity at the time that this occurred," she said. 

Ardern says the attacker was a lone wolf who subscribed to a violent ideology inspired by ISIS. He was an ISIS supporter, she says.

What we know:

  • A man attacked fellow shoppers with a knife at Countdown LynnMall in west Auckland shortly after 2pm.
  • Six people are injured - three critically, one seriously, and two moderately.
  • The attacker was shot dead by police shortly within roughly a minute of the attack starting.
  • The Prime Minister has confirmed it was a terror attack and the perpetrator was inspired by ISIS.
  • The man is a Sri Lankan national who moved to New Zealand in 2011 and was placed on a terror watchlist in 2016.
  • Legislation prevented him from being imprisoned but he was under heavy surveillance at the time the attack was carried out.

Asked why someone on a terror watchlist was allowed in the community, Ardern said he wasn't legally able to be imprisoned so was under heavy monitoring instead.

Coster says he's confident the police did "everything we can" within the bounds of the law to ensure they could prevent what happened.

He reiterates there was nothing that could be done to prevent him being in the community, but did everything possible to monitor him.

The reasons he is known to agencies is suppressed, but Ardern says in her view it is in the public interest to share that information.

"We have used every surveillance agency we could to keep Kiwis safe."

She says what happened today was despicable, hateful and wrong.

"It was carried out by an individual not a faith - not a culture, not an ethnicity - but an individual ideology that is not supported here.

"He alone carries the responsibility for these attacks. Let that be where the judgement falls."

A witness who was shopping at Countdown LynnMall during Friday afternoon's attack says he nearly attempted to hit the attacker before an undercover police officer leapt into action.

Shoppers were forced to flee the west Auckland mall in terror after the man attacked other shoppers on Friday, before being shot dead by police.  

Ardern told reporters the police shot the offender within roughly a minute of the attack happening.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster says he travelled from where he lived in Glen Eden to Countdown at LynnMall, and was closely watched by surveillance teams.

He entered Countdown where he obtained a knife. Surveillance teams were as close as they could be, and when the commotion began they acted.

Coster says when the man approached them with the knife he was shot and killed.