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What more could have been done to stop the attack? We don’t know enough yet to answer that with the certainty the gravity of this attack deserves. But we understand a few things.
This man was known to Police and authorities. He was known to the Prime Minister. Judging by previous monitoring when he was arrested for buying a hunting knife, I think it’s safe to say he didn’t have the freedom to plan a more sophisticated attack. That’s not to say he wanted to plan a more sophisticated attack – we don’t know that yet. It’s not to say his spree at the New Lynn Countdown wasn’t terrible. But it also wasn’t particularly well-planned. Compared to the Christchurch terrorist, who was able to plan an attack for a long period of time without ever being bothered by the authorities and who used an assault weapons to kill as many people as possible, we are fortunate that yesterday’s attack wasn’t as sophisticated. Part of that may be because this man was being monitored. I thought it was interesting the Prime Minister was so enthusiastic about getting the suppression orders lifted from this man’s case – it suggests to me that she and her advisers feel confident there was nothing more the security agencies could have done to stop the attack.
From what we’ve been told, you would have to say Police responded incredibly quickly. 60 seconds, if indeed that was the length of time between the start of the attack and Police shooting the man dead, is a very short period of time. Not short enough for those people who were attacked, but pretty quick.
Clearly this will draw attention to New Zealand’s anti-terror laws. In 2017 the man tried to travel overseas to fight for ISIS. He had fundamentalist material at his home. But two days after he was bailed he purchased a hunting knife and was arrested again. Authorities tried to prosecute him under the Terrorism Suppression Act. But a ruling judge said under the law as it stands, the purchase of the knife could not be considered a triggering act. The judge took the unusual step of forwarding his decision to the Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, and the Law Commission. He felt, as many others and the Royal Commission felt, our laws had a gaping hole when it came to the planning of a terrorist attack.
This is being changed. New terrorism laws are passing through parliament at the moment. It won’t be absolutely clear until those laws are finalised if they could have prevented this attack. Sadly the change has come too late.
One last point: We need to be sure that Police and authorities did everything possible within their powers to prevent the attack happening in the first place. But we also need to accept that power has limitations. Limitations are important. Police and security agencies can’t just lock someone up forever without following a scrupulous judicial process. Sadly, regardless of our terror laws, there will always exist the possibility for an individual to go out and harm innocent people. We should take every prudent step to prevent it from happening. But an independent judiciary and appropriate limits on power help to give us the freedom and security that events and people like this, threaten. They are part of what make New Zealand a good country to live in.
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