LynnMall terror attack: Jacinda Ardern explains why deportation hadn't happened

The LynnMall terrorist hadn't previously been deported because he was appealing the cancellation of his refugee status and was likely to be considered a "protected person", it can be revealed.

Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen - whose identity was suppressed until Saturday night - injured seven people in a stabbing frenzy on Friday afternoon at the LynnMall Countdown supermarket in the west Auckland suburb of New Lynn. He was shot and killed at the scene by undercover cops following him.

In the more than 24 hours since the attack, it's emerged Samsudeen subscribed to Islamic State (IS) ideology and had a long history with police and the courts because of his extremist behaviour. He was considered by authorities as one of the most concerning individuals in the country and extensive work had gone into reducing his risk to the public. 

It can now be revealed Samusdeen, a Tamil Muslim who arrived in New Zealand in 2011, was granted refugee status in 2013. However, years later, he was notified this would be revoked, something Samusdeen challenged. A final decision on this had not been made by the time of the attack.

In a statement late on Saturday night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Immigration NZ had been trying to deport him for years.

Samsudeen's original claim to refugee status was declined in 2012, but after an appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, he was successful. But while investigating him years later, INZ was "made aware of information that led them to believe the individual's refugee status was fraudulently obtained".

"The process was started to cancel his refugee status, and with it, his right to stay in New Zealand," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Why hadn't NZ deported the terrorist?

In February 2019, Samsudeen's refugee status was cancelled and he was served with deportation liability notices, Ardern said late on Saturday. In April of that year, he appealed against his deportation while in prison facing charges.

But the appeal couldn't go ahead until the trial ended in May 2021.

"In the meantime, agencies were concerned about the risk this individual posed to the community," Ardern said in a statement. "They also knew he may be released from prison, and that his appeal through the Tribunal, which was stopping his deportation, may take some time."

"Immigration New Zealand explored whether the Immigration Act might allow them to detain the individual while his deportation appeal was heard. It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating when legal advice came back to say this wasn't an option. "

Ardern explained a person can only be detained under the Immigration Act for the purpose of deportation. Legal advice said the man was likely to be considered a 'protected person' because of the status of the country he travelled from and his treatment on return. 

"Protected people cannot be deported from New Zealand. After receiving this advice Immigration New Zealand determined they could not detain the individual while he waited for his appeal."

At the time of the terrorist attack, his appeal was still ongoing.

Ardern described it as a "frustrating process".

"Since 2018 Ministers have been seeking advice on our ability to deport this individual. 

"In July this year I met with officials in person and expressed my concern that the law could allow someone to remain here who obtained their immigration status fraudulently and posed a threat to our national security. I asked for work to be undertaken to look at whether we should amend our law, in the context of our international obligations. 

"Ultimately these timelines show that Immigration New Zealand from the beginning have sought to deport this individual, and were right to do so."

LynnMall terror attack: Jacinda Ardern explains why deportation hadn't happened
LynnMall terror attack: Jacinda Ardern explains why deportation hadn't happened
LynnMall terror attack: Jacinda Ardern explains why deportation hadn't happened
LynnMall terror attack: Jacinda Ardern explains why deportation hadn't happened

Samsudeen's status as a refugee could not be reported due to the confidentiality given to refugees and their claims to that status under Section 151 of the Immigration Act. However, after legal arguments on Saturday, Justice Edwin Wylie ruled details could be reported. 

He accepted the high public interest in Samsudeen's identity and said disclosing his refugee status would not put him or any other person, including his Sri Lankan-based family, in danger.

"In my judgement, it is difficult to see that their safety is endangered simply by disclosure of the information in respect of which obligations of confidentiality are imposed by [Section 151]," Justice Wylie said.

He also said that by committing serious criminal offences, Samsudeen had waived the confidentiality he might be entitled to.

Lawyers representing the terrorist's family asked for suppression to last another 12 hours, with the man's elderly, unwell father not yet told of what had happened at LynnMall. 

But Justice Wylie rejected this, saying he was dealing with suppression orders made before the attack, not in relation to the LynnMall incident. As there are no criminal proceedings related to the attack, he had no power to extend suppression on that basis.

The judge said he had "sympathy" for the terrorist's family, but the father would have to be told "sooner rather than later". He also noted Samusdeen's name has already been published in overseas media, including in Sri Lanka.