NZ terror suspect thought to have tried to travel to Syria four years ago

Seven people were stabbed by a man at a supermarket in an Auckland shopping centre on Friday.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday that there are more details to come out about the man’s history, but here is what we know so far:

• The attacker came to New Zealand in 2011 on a student visa from Sri Lanka. He was 22 then, and New Zealand’s Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said any extremist views he might have held at that time were not known to authorities.

• The man came to police attention in 2016 after expressing sympathy for terrorists and sharing violent videos online. Police spoke to him in April and May that year but the behaviour continued.

• In May 2017, he was arrested at Auckland International Airport, where police believed he was heading for Syria. They searched his apartment and found restricted publications and a hunting knife. He was charged with possessing them, and pleaded guilty to knowingly distributing restricted publications, fraud, and failing to assist police in the execution of their search powers. He was released on bail.

• While on bail in August 2018, he was caught buying a knife, resulting in another arrest and police again finding objectionable or “extremist material” after searching his home. He was charged and kept in custody.

• In September 2018, he was sentenced to 12 months’ supervision but, because of previous charges from his time on bail, he remained in custody.

• In July 2020, prosecutors tried to prosecute the man under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, but a High Court judge ruled that preparing a terrorist attack was not in itself an offence under the country’s legislation. He remained in custody.

• During this time he assaulted prison officers and was charged in relation to this.

• In May 2021, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was briefed on efforts to find legal avenues to keep him detained. The previous month, a draft bill had been introduced which would allow prosecution for preparing terrorist acts.

• Also in May 2021, he was convicted in the High Court regarding possessing a knife and objectionable material.

• In July 2021, he was sentenced to 12 months’ supervision with conditions, including living at a certain place, restrictions on his internet use, allowing police to check his phone, and attendance at rehabilitation sessions. Mr Coster said on Saturday that the attacker had shown himself to be “generally uncooperative” with regards to rehabilitation efforts.

• Prosecutors had sought electronic monitoring but the court refused this.

• By the time he was let out into the community in mid-July, he had spent about three years in prison on remand but legal avenues to keep him there “were exhausted”, Ms Ardern said.

• From the day of his release, he was closely monitored by police, but Mr Coster said he was very paranoid, even challenging members of the public who he accused of following him.

• It is believed that the attacker’s family live overseas and New Zealand news website Stuff.co.nz quoted lawyer Davoud Mansouri-Rad, who represented him on immigration matters, as saying: “The family were not aware of what the person in New Zealand was doing… They’re shocked and grieving”.

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