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New Zealand will tighten counterterrorism laws after supermarket stabbing, PM says

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed on Saturday to tighten counterterrorism laws this month after a knife-wielding militant known to the authorities stabbed and wounded seven people in a supermarket.

7 people were wounded in Friday's stabbing rampage; police shot and killed attacker

A police officer leads employees of a nearby store away from the scene of a knife attack carried out by a man who injured multiple people at a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand, on Friday. (Stuff Limited/Ricky Wilson/Reuters)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed on Saturday to tighten counterterrorism laws this month after a knife-wielding militant known to the authorities stabbed and wounded seven people in a supermarket.

Police shot dead the attacker within a couple of minutes of him launching his stabbing rampage in Auckland on Friday. 

Undercover officers monitoring the man from just outside the Countdown supermarket sprang into action when they saw shoppers running and heard shouting, police said.

They said they had thought the man had gone in to do some shopping, but he picked up a knife from a display and started stabbing people. A bystander's video recorded the sound of 10 shots being fired in rapid succession.

Ardern said a total seven people were wounded in the attack, and three are in critical condition.

Court documents named the attacker as 32-year-old Mohamed Samsudeen, a Tamil Muslim who arrived from Sri Lanka 10 years ago on a student visa, seeking refugee status. Police said he had been imprisoned for about three years for previous crimes before being released in July.

Ahmed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen appears in the High Court in Auckland, New Zealand on Aug. 7, 2018, after he was found possessing a series of images which depict extreme violence. A New Zealand court has named him as the man who injured seven people in a stabbing in an Auckland supermarket on Friday. (Greg Bowker/New Zealand Herald/The Associated Press)

The prime minister said the man was inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group and was being monitored constantly but could not be kept in prison by law any longer. Ardern said when he arrived in New Zealand, he was not known to have held any extreme views.

Adern said legislators will begin working to pass the Counter Terror Legislation Bill as soon as parliament resumes, "and no later than by the end of this month."

The bill criminalizes planning and preparation that might lead to terror attack, closing what critics have said has been a loophole allowing plotters to stay free.

But Ardern said it would not be fair to assume that the tighter law would have made a difference in this case.

"This was a highly motivated individual who used a supermarket visit as a shield for an attack. That is an incredibly tough set of circumstances," she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday. Ardern described Friday's stabbing in Auckland as a terror attack. (Mark Mitchell/The Associated Press)

Ardern said the attacker came to the attention of the police in 2016 because of his support for a violent ideology inspired by ISIS. He had expressed sympathy on Facebook for militant attacks, violent war-related videos and comments advocating violent extremism.

Previous arrests

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.

Ardern was briefed on the case in late July and again in late August and officials, including the commissioner of police, raised the possibility of expediting the amendment to the counterterrorism legislation.

She said she wanted to explain why the attacker had not been deported but could not because to do so would violate court suppression orders, which also prevented her from identifying him.

Police keep watch outside the Countdown supermarket at Lynn Mall in Auckland on Saturday, a day after the attack. (Diego Opatowski/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

With files from The Associated Press

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