Supermarket horror

Once again, terrorism has come trampling uninvited into New Zealand, leaving us trying to make sense of the senseless.

Seven people innocently visiting a New Lynn Countdown supermarket on a Friday afternoon, injured, some critically, at the hands of a Sri Lankan Islamic State supporter who was considered such a risk he was under 24-hour police surveillance.

We can only imagine how awful this is for all concerned.

None of those injured, Auckland people who might already have been anxious about supermarket shopping in Level 4, would have been expecting their supermarket visit to end this way. It must also be difficult for their families and friends to rally in support of them, given Level 4 restrictions. Fellow shoppers in the store at the time will have been terrified too.

Countdown workers in Dunedin’s Cumberland St store will understand only too well how frightening Friday’s events were since it is less than four months since they were faced with a multiple stabbing incident. Indeed, supermarket workers around the country, already operating under the more than usually stressful conditions of Covid Alert Levels 3 and 4, will have been rattled by the horrific crime. Since the attacker armed himself with a kitchen knife grabbed from a stand, it is understandable the major chains decided to remove sharp knives from their stores in the meantime.

The specialist police team assigned to the lone wolf terrorist must be commended for their swift action in challenging and then shooting the offender, preventing further injury but without hurting others themselves. All the same, it must have been devastating for them to realise in the end they were unable to stop the incident occurring at all.

When members of the wider public are rocked by such events, it is usual for many to seek comfort in some sort of communal gathering as an outlet for the shock and grief and to support those affected. However, this has not been possible under current alert levels.

We hope the lack of this outlet will not lead to spreading of uninformed and misleading speculation (something already flagged by Police Commissioner Andrew Coster) or anti-Muslim or anti-Sri Lankan sentiment on social media.

As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been at pains to point out, this event was carried out by an individual, not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity, but someone gripped by ideology that is not supported here by any community.

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

It has been encouraging to see the response to the Givalittle page for those injured, set up by the Muslim Association of Canterbury, an organisation still reeling from the aftermath of the 2019 rampage of a white extremist which left 51 worshippers dead in Christchurch.

Already, there is much conjecture about what could and should have happened to prevent this horrific event.

For instance, if the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill, now at the select committee stage, was law, would its provisions to make planning a terrorist attack an offence have stopped this? Who knows? Was there evidence, outside the terrorist’s own head, on this occasion, he was planning this event, or was it a spur of the moment decision?

The law would not be retrospective, applying to the behaviour which drew police’s attention to him back in 2016.

There will also be many questions about attempts to remove the 32-year-old attacker’s refugee status (initially declined but granted in 2013 after it was accepted the Tamil Muslim had been attacked, abducted, and physically mistreated). Although this process began in 2018, it was unresolved at the time of the attack.

In the days ahead, it will be important the incident is fully investigated, and any following action is properly considered. Knee-jerk responses can turn out to be more of a problem than a solution.


Proceed with proposals to outlaw incitement to hatred and discrimination.