Multi-agency report reveals 'opportunity was missed' to help LynnMall terrorist Ahamed Samsudeen years before attack

A newly-released multi-agency report has revealed the LynnMall knife attacker could've been helped all the way back in 2016, but authorities missed an opportunity to address his needs.

The coordinated review of the management of Ahamed Samsudeen, carried out by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), the Intelligence and Security Inspector-General and the Inspectorate's office, said the Sri Lankan national was "largely treated like any other remand prisoner" after his 2016 arrest - which shouldn't have been the case given his risk to national security.

Samsudeen, a Tamil Muslim who arrived in New Zealand from Sri Lanka in 2011 having claimed he was tortured there, was granted refugee status in 2013. The ISIS-inspired terrorist, who was under surveillance by the police, was shot dead in September last year just minutes after he stabbed seven people at a west Auckland supermarket. 

He first became known to the police in 2016, after he posted what was described as "staunchly anti-Western and violent" material on the internet.

The Corrections department should've had "specifically designed disengagement programmes for those individuals presenting a high risk of violent extremism", the three agencies said in their report. However, the engagement with Samsudeen was no more extensive than any other prisoner, despite him being a "high risk of violent extremism".

Samsudeen was released on bail but, in 2018 was arrested again after he purchased a knife. A subsequent search of where he was living led to more objectionable material being found. 

Corrections didn't "meet their statutory obligations to make adequate provision" for Samsudeen's religious, cultural and mental health needs during his second period in custody, the report found.

Responding to the report, the Federation of Islamic Associations (FIANZ) said its own investigations into the attack mostly aligned with the multi-agency findings.

"We will take time to review in detail the information and conclusions presented, especially given that this report has significant lessons learned to ensure such tragedies do not occur again," said Abdur Razzaq, the chair of FIANZ's Royal Commission of Inquiry response. "We have now two major reviews which have both highlighted the need for substantive changes in the manner we address national security issues."

The organisation condemned the attack as "terrible" and said it was praying for the welfare of the survivors.  

Corrections said in a statement to the media it had taken multiple steps to strengthen its psychological services in violent extremism and disengagement.

"To assist our psychologists working with people considered at risk of engaging in violent extremism, we are developing new psychological assessment and treatment guidelines," Corrections chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot said. "Alongside this, we are providing increased training for psychologists in this area."

Lightfoot. Photo credit: Newshub.

Lightfoot said Corrections would continue working with partner agencies to effectively keep communities safe from violent extremism.

"I know our staff involved in Mr Samsudeen's management have been deeply affected by his actions and share my view that any changes that may help prevent others from carrying out similar attacks must be implemented. I am immensely grateful for the extraordinary work they do every day."

The multi-agency inquiry, summarising the handling of Samsudeen's case, said "many people who adopt violent extremist views have highly complex issues".

It said effort needed to be made to disengage people from extremism because "law enforcement and imprisonment alone are very unlikely to reduce the risk of violence".

Actions and inactions of agencies "substantially" increased the risk of Samsudeen going down the wrong path and "created the very event that they were trying to prevent", the report said.

"There were a number of missed opportunities, especially in the contacts with Mr Samsudeen between 2016 and 2018, to provide pro-social support with the purpose of addressing his isolation and mental health difficulties and leading him down a different path. There were also very limited attempts to address his needs during the extended time he spent in custody and fragmented and inadequate attempts to develop integrated and long-term plans for his two releases.

"The length of time Mr Samsudeen was detained in custody on remand - more than four years between May 2017 and September 2021 - was unacceptably long and undoubtedly greatly exacerbated his risk of causing harm."

According to the report, Corrections along with the police were also reluctant to share information with each other about Samsudeen and the risk he posed.

However, the report noted, "all those who were dealing with Mr Samsudeen were doing what they thought best".

"We of course do not know whether, if they had acted differently, there would have been a different outcome. Perhaps, given Mr Samsudeen's general reluctance to engage with others, that is unlikely."

Samsudeen was "a very challenging person to engage with", the report found.

In a separate report by the IPCA, also released on Wednesday, authority chair Judge Colin Doherty said the officers who shot Samsudeen were justified in doing so. 

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said in a statement he stood by decisions made by his staff in the lead-up to the attack, given the information and options available to them.

Coster said all decisions were made with the safety of the public in mind.

"Police staff carefully balanced a range of considerations when dealing with this individual over five years," he said. "In that time, we took two successful prosecutions, sought multiple custodial remands and we remained concerned about the recidivist nature of his behaviour, and the very real risk his violent extremism posed to the community. Substantial effort was made within the bounds of legislation to manage the risk clearly presented to the wider community."

Minister in charge Andrew Little, in a statement, said changes had already been made. The Government has pledged to work out if anything could be done to address signs of radicalisation and violent extremism earlier.

"While no recommendations were made in the review report, we're committed to working through the findings to ensure improvements can continue to be delivered across the system.

"This attack was carried out by an individual who acted alone. The attacker's actions do not reflect on any community, culture, religion or national grouping.

"New Zealand is sadly not immune from the threat of terrorism. The Government's commitment is to learn from the two terrorist attacks we have experienced in recent years and to take all possible steps to ensure a safe, secure and resilient Aotearoa New Zealand."