LynnMall terrorist named as Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, refugee status and criminal history revealed

Suppression orders around the ISIS-inspired "lone wolf" terrorist who stabbed seven people at a west Auckland supermarket have lifted overnight.

It can be revealed the terrorist was Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, a man officials had been trying to deport for years.

Seven people were injured, three critically after Samsudeen attacked shoppers at the Countdown supermarket in west Auckland's LynnMall before 3pm on Friday. The ISIS-inspired terrorist was under surveillance by police and was shot dead by officers about two minutes after the attack began. 

Samsudeen's identity couldn't initially be revealed due to suppression orders. However, these were lifted at 11pm on Saturday night by the Auckland High Court.

Samsudeen, a Tamil Muslim who arrived in New Zealand in 2011, was granted refugee status in 2013. He had claimed to have been tortured in Sri Lanka and had issues with authorities there due to his political background. He travelled to Aotearoa to seek refugee status.

However, in 2018, he was notified this would be revoked, something Samsudeen challenged. A final decision on this had not been made by the time of the attack.

Attempts to deport

In a statement late on Saturday night, the Prime Minister 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, Immigration NZ (INZ) "were 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," Jacinda Ardern said.

In February 2019, the Prime Minister said, his refugee status was cancelled and he was served with deportation liability notices. 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. "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 Immigrtion 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."

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 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.

Who is Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen?

Samsudeen was a 32-year-old Sri Lankan national who arrived in New Zealand in October 2011 as a 22-year-old travelling on a student visa. At the time, it was not known that he held extremist views.

The man claimed he and his father had experienced issues with authorities in Sri Lanka due to their political background, claiming to have been attacked, kidnapped and tortured. He claimed to have gone into hiding and came to New Zealand to seek refugee status.

The man first became known to police in 2016, after he posted what has been described as "staunchly anti-Western and violent" material on the internet. On Facebook, he expressed sympathy for recent terrorist attacks, including a bombing in Europe, and made comments advocating for violent extremism. 

The man, who lived in the west Auckland suburb of Glen Eden, was spoken to by police twice - once in April 2016 and then again in May that year - but continued to post violent material. 

It's said Samsudeen told a worshipper at his mosque that he planned to join Islamic State (IS), and, in May 2017, he was arrested at Auckland International Airport. It's believed he was heading to Syria, where IS was carrying out attacks amid the country's civil war. 

Following his arrest, police searched the man's home and found material that glorified violence, including images of him posing with an air rifle and a hunting knife.

Mohamed Samsudeen.
Mohamed Samsudeen.

He was detained in custody without bail and eventually pleaded guilty to knowingly distributing restricted material, fraud and failing to assist police with their search. He was released on bail.

However, in August 2018, while still on bail, Samsudeen purchased another knife. Again, he was arrested and a further search of his residence led to more objectionable material being found.

The man received additional charges of possessing objectionable material, possession of an offensive weapon and failing to assist police with their search. In this instance, he was kept in custody.

A month later, Samsudeen was sentenced to 12 months of supervision on the first set of charges. However, he remained in prison due to the additional crimes he had been accused of while on bail.

In July 2020, the Crown applied to prosecute the man under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 for planning a terrorist attack. However, the High Court judge declined this, ruling that preparing an attack is not an offence under the legislation. He said creating an offence was not the job of the court, but an issue for Parliament.

Samsudeen remained in custody and during this time refused to be psychologically assessed. On Saturday, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the man had been generally uncooperative with efforts to modify his behaviour or address underlying issues.

Samsudeen also assaulted Corrections' officers and faced charges for these acts.

In May of this year, the man was found guilty by a jury in the Auckland High Court of possessing ISIS propaganda and failing to assist police during their search. He was found not guilty of possessing other objectionable material and of possessing a knife in a public place.

Because of the length of time he had already spent in custody, Samsudeen was sentenced by a High Court judge on July 6 to 12 months supervision. There were special conditions attached to this, including that he must show his probation officers all his electronic devices and provide access to his social media accounts. He was also required to attend a rehabilitation assessment and treatment. The Crown wanted him to be monitored by GPS, but that wasn't imposed by the court.

Prior to his release in mid-July, authorities looked at how to reduce his risk to the public. That included by having him surveyed, such as by using the Special Tactics Group (STG) that eventually shot and killed the man on Friday. Police also looked at what he could be arrested for, such as breaching his conditions, committing or threatening to commit a violent act, acquiring weapons or having objectionable material.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met with officials on August 9 to discuss further ways to reduce the risk Samsudeen, who she described as "highly motivated", posed to the community. Later last month, officials, including the Police Commissioner, raised the possibility of bringing forward amendments to counter-terrorism legislation introduced in April to make it an offence to plan or prepare an attack. 

On Friday, the Minister of Justice contacted the chair of the Select Committee considering the amendments, which passed first reading in May, with the hopes of speeding the change up. That happened on the same day the man committed his horrendous act.

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The terrorist attack

An undercover team followed Samsudeen on Friday as he trained to the LynnMall, took a supermarket trolley and began shopping. About ten minutes later, however, they heard a commotion and ran to find the man had begun his stabbing spree that would leave seven injured. He tried to rush the officers with a knife before they opened fire and killed the man. The time between the terrorist's first attack and him being shot is estimated to be about two minutes.

Samsudeen was "paranoid" about surveillance, the Police Commissioner said, even previously challenging members of the public about whether they were monitoring him. This was something the undercover officers had to consider. It was also noted that with the supermarket being under COVID-19 alert level 4 conditions, there were fewer people around, making it harder for officers to act inconspicuous.

While no specific details could be provided, Coster said on Saturday some of Samsudeen's actions earlier on Friday suggested he was planning for the future, with a "vision beyond the day yesterday". Of those subscribing to dangerous ideologies in New Zealand, he was considered to be among the most concerning cases, the commissioner said.

The Prime Minister said Samsudeen was "inspired by ISIS."

"This was a violent attack, it was senseless and I'm so sorry it happened," said Ardern on Friday evening.

"It was despicable, it was hateful, it was wrong. It was carried out by an individual, not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity - but an individual person who was gripped by an ideology that is not supported here by anyone or any community.

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

She said on Saturday that agencies had "used every tool available to them to protect innocent people from this individual". However, the case would be looked at to "see what was done, and what more could have been done". That will include the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Coroner. 

Ardern also committed that Parliament to passing the counter-terror legislation by the end of the month. She thanked National's Judith Collins for her support on this. 

The gap in the counter-terrorism legislation now being amended was noted by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terror attack. 

"There is nothing explicit in the Act to criminalise activities that are preliminary to acts of terrorism," the Royal Commission of Inquiry report said. 

It said that some precursor acts - such as the recruitment of members of terrorist groups - only apply to activity in which two or more people are involved. 

"They do not apply to the activities of lone actor terrorists. There are thus no explicit offences that catch the activity of a lone actor terrorist that is preliminary to a terrorist act."

Ardern said on Saturday officials have been undertaking policy work since 2018 on criminalising preparatory acts which may be related to terrorist intent or a plan. However, she said it was not fair to assume that if the law change had already been implemented, it would have made a difference in this case.