Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Saturday vowed to toughen counter-terrorism laws in New Zealand after a man tagged an extremist” by the government stabbed and wounded seven people in a supermarket in Auckland on Friday.
“I am committing, that as soon as Parliament resumes, we will complete that work – that means working to pass the law as soon as possible, and no later than by the end of this month,” Ardern told a news conference.
“We must be willing to make the changes that we know may not necessarily have changed history, but could change the future,” she said.
Ardern who described the stabbings as a “terrorist attack”, said she expected that changes to the country’s counter-terrorism legislation would be backed by parliament by the end of September.
The Counter Terror Legislation Bill criminalises planning and preparation that might lead to terror attack, closing what critics have said has been a loophole allowing plotters to stay free.
Within a minute of the commencement of the stabbing spree, the police shot dead the 32-year-old attacker, a Sri Lankan national and a known supporter of Islamic State who had been convicted and imprisoned for about three years before being released in July.
Ardern said the man arrived in New Zealand in 2011 on a student visa and was not known to have held any extreme views.
He came to the attention of police in 2016 after he expressed sympathy on Facebook for militant attacks, violent war-related videos and comments advocating violent extremism.
In May 2017, he was arrested at Auckland’s airport where authorities believed he was travelling to Syria. He was charged after restricted publications and a hunting knife were discovered at his house but was released on bail.
In August 2018, he again bought a knife and was arrested and jailed. He was released into the community in July this year when surveillance began, Ardern said.
New Zealand supermarket group Countdown said on Saturday it had removed knives and scissors from its shelves while it considers whether it would continue to sell them.
“We want all of our team to feel safe when they come to work,” said Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s general manager for safety said in a media statement.
Other supermarket chains had also removed sharp knives from their shelves, media reported.