Judith Collins understands frustration over New Lynn Countdown terrorist Aathil Samsudeen 'gaming the system'

National leader Judith Collins questions if New Zealand is "too soft" after the New Lynn Countdown terrorist was able to "game the system" and stay in the country despite being identified as a threat. 

Collins was interviewed on Magic Talk after a talkback caller named Paul expressed frustration at the Labour Government, saying he'd "just had enough", and that the terrorist "should've been sent back to where he came from". 

Islamic State-inspired extremist Aathil Samsudeen was shot dead by police on Friday afternoon after attacking seven people at Auckland's Lynn Mall Countdown with a knife, three of whom remain in a critical condition. 

The 32-year-old "lone-wolf" terrorist from Sri Lanka was under constant police surveillance after being put behind bars in 2017 for possessing terrorism-linked material and a hunting knife. 

By July 2021 he was convicted and sentenced but, having served three years on remand, he was free to go. He was not in prison because there was nothing left to hold him on after three years' imprisonment. 

The terrorist couldn't be deported because he was considered, by Crown Law, likely to be a Protected Person due to his refugee status. Authorities had been working to revoke that status on the suspicion he had fabricated documentation. 

"I was listening to Paul, and I thought, he's saying what quite a few people are thinking and saying," Collins told Magic Talk's Leah Panapa. 

"He's feeling like New Zealanders were being told that it was somehow a whole chunk of New Zealanders at fault for the terrible massacre in Christchurch. It wasn't. It was an Australian who came into New Zealand for that particular purpose. 

"Now we've got this guy coming out of Sri Lanka claiming refugee status - it turns out fraudulently - and he's basically gamed the system all the way through now for years, and there he has gone and completely changed the lives of innocent people going about their shopping at Countdown. 

Islamic State-inspired extremist Aathil Samsudeen.
Islamic State-inspired extremist Aathil Samsudeen. Photo credit: File

"He's feeling the frustration of people that say, is New Zealand seen as a soft touch? Are we too soft? And the answer has to be, it takes a hell of a long time to get anyone deported out of this country, as long as they use their appeal rights. I sense his frustration and I think he's saying what a lot of people are thinking."

The Government is adamant every available lever was pulled to try and get the man deported, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raising it as far back as 2018. But the terrorist was able to manipulate the system to stay. 

He arrived in New Zealand on a student visa in 2011 and applied for refugee status in 2012. It was rejected by Immigration NZ, but he appealed the decision, and it was eventually granted by the Immigration Protection Tribunal in 2013. 

The terrorist first came to the attention of police for ISIS-inspired Facebook posts in 2016, and later that year travelled to Samoa. He tried to travel to Malaysia in 2017 but authorities stopped him on the suspicion he was travelling to Syria to fight for ISIS, and that's when the objectionable material was discovered at his home and he was arrested.  

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told The AM Show on Monday he also understood how frustrating the situation was

"It was immensely frustrating to the Government, but we do have a rule of law that allows people to appeal," he said. 

"The issue then became that the person, by this stage, was facing criminal charges. The outcome of those criminal charges... was material to the decision around whether or not a deportation would go ahead.

"We had to wait for the charges to be dealt with in order to get back to the deportation process. 

"I can feel people's frustration, because I feel it too, but that is the system we've got. The Government is not above legal processes and including appeals."

Robertson said the Government is looking at amending the Immigration Act, because as it stands, it is not possible to detain an individual while a deportation order is in process. In order for someone to be detained, a decision regarding deportation has to have been made. 

Collins said National is willing to work with the Government to get the changes through Parliament without opposition. 

"We realise this is bigger than politics. We want to help you get the best laws so that we don't see situations like this happening again."

The Government is also in the final stages of passing the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill, which would create a new offence to criminalise planning or preparation for a terrorist act. 

ACT leader David Seymour believes this should be approached carefully. 

"It is a major step to start locking people up for things they've thought of doing. Under our law, you can only be punished for things you've actually done. We should be careful about rushing such a change, even if it seems urgent after a gruesome attack."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman is skeptical. 

"Friday's tragic terror attack must not be used to rush counter terror laws without scrutiny. This has never helped before!" she wrote on Twitter. 

"Our response must capture the complexity of radicalisation, protect rights, and guard against causing more harm to the most marginalised communities."