Authorities in New Zealand had for years been trying to deport the Islamic State-inspired terrorist who carried out a frenzied attack in a supermarket, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed last night.
Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, 32, was served a deportation notice in April 2019 after his refugee status – which authorities say was fraudulently obtained – was revoked.
While the legal process dragged on, Samsudeen grabbed a knife off a supermarket shelf in Auckland on Friday and injured seven people, leaving three critically wounded.
Samsudeen, who had been flagged to authorities as having shown support for terror group Islamic State, was shot dead by police who were tailing him.
Ms Ardern last night admitted authorities had looked at detaining Samsudeen during the deportation process, but said it was ‘frustrating’ he was allowed to stay free.
The revelations were made after automatic legal restrictions preventing his name being made public were removed on Saturday.
It was revealed that Samsudeen arrived in New Zealand from Sri Lanka as a 22-year-old in 2011 on a student visa and was granted refugee status two years later.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said measures were already underway to strengthen New Zealand’s terrorism suppression laws
Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, 32, was served a deportation notice in April 2019 after his refugee status – which authorities say was fraudulently obtained – was revoked
In 2016, he came to the attention of the police and intelligence agencies after expressing sympathy on Facebook for terrorist attacks.
During their investigations it became evident the refugee status was fraudulently obtained and the process began to cancel his right to stay in New Zealand, Ardern said.
The following year he was arrested at Auckland Airport, when it was suspected he was on his way to Syria.
A police search of his home revealed a large hunting knife and ‘material related to ISIS propaganda’, court documents said, using another acronym for IS.
Ardern said deportation notices were served in April 2019. But Samsudeen, who described himself as a Tamil Muslim, appealed the deportation.
He told a court he faced ‘arrest, detention, mistreatment and torture’ if sent back to Sri Lanka.
‘He was still in prison at this time, and facing criminal charges. For a number of reasons, the deportation appeal could not proceed until after the conclusion of the criminal trial in May 2021,’ Ardern said.
‘In the meantime, agencies were concerned about the risk this individual posed to the community,’ she added, noting officials knew he could be released and that the appeal, ‘which was stopping his deportation, may take some time’.
The country’s immigration agency looked into ways of detaining Samsudeen during the appeal process through the Immigration Act, according to Ardern.
‘It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating when legal advice came back to say this wasn’t an option,’ she said.
Samsudeen at that stage had been held in custody for three years and authorities had exhausted all avenues to keep him detained.
Attempts to have him charged under New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act were unsuccessful and Ardern said changes to New Zealand’s counter-terrorism legislation were expected to be approved by parliament before the end of the month.
‘In late August, officials including the commissioner of police raised the possibility of expediting the amendments,’ she said.
Police commissioner Andrew Coster said there had been nothing unusual about the man’s actions in the lead up to the attack, and he had appeared to be doing normal grocery shopping.
Because he had a ‘high level of paranoia’ around surveillance, Coster said the police kept their distance, and it took more than two minutes to reach the man and shoot him after he started his stabbing spree.
The day after the attack, Sri Lankan authorities said they would cooperate with New Zealand’s investigation ‘in any way necessary’, according to foreign ministry spokesman Kohularangan Ratnasingam.
Sri Lankan police sources said criminal investigators had already interviewed the attacker’s brother, who lives in the capital Colombo.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster (R) said there had been nothing unusual about Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen’s actions in the lead up to the attack at an Auckland supermarket on Friday, and he had appeared to be doing normal grocery shopping
‘We are collecting information about him as well as anyone else who may have had contacts with him,’ a top police official said.
In an interview on Saturday, Samsudeen’s mother said her son had been ‘brainwashed’ by neighbours she said hailed from Syria and Iraq.
‘We knew there was a change in him,’ she told Hiru TV from her home in Kattankudy, east of Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s Muslim Council has condemned the Auckland attack as a ‘barbaric act of terrorism’.
‘This reminds all of us to come together and be united and fight against terrorism and violent extremism,’ council member Mohamed Hisham told AFP.
Sri Lankan Muslim legislator Mujibur Rahman said his community was saddened by the attack, while lauding Ardern for easing public sentiment.
‘Her statement soon after the incident defused the situation and ensured there was no harm to the Sri Lankan community (in New Zealand),’ Rahman told AFP.
Ardern insisted no one community should be singled out for the violence.
‘It was carried out by an individual, not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity,’ she said.