New Zealand officials confirm name of Auckland knife attacker

New Zealand officials confirm name of Auckland knife attacker
Ahmed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen, appearing in court in 2018 (Greg Bowker/New Zealand Herald/AP)

The New Zealand government has named 32-year-old Ahamed Samsudeen as the extremist who was shot and killed by police after he left seven people injured in a knife attack inside an Auckland supermarket.

It emerged that authorities had earlier imprisoned the man inspired by the so-called Islamic State group (IS) for three years after catching him with a hunting knife and extremist videos.

But at a certain point, despite grave fears he would attack others, they said they could do nothing more to keep Samsudeen behind bars.

Police forensic staff examining the scene (Brett Phibbs/AP)

Their fears were borne out when the man grabbed a kitchen knife from a supermarket shelf and stabbed five people in Auckland on Friday, critically injuring three.

Two more shoppers were injured in the incident.

On Saturday, three of the victims remain in a critical condition and three more are in stable or moderate conditions.

The seventh person is recovering at home. The youngest victim was a 29-year-old woman, while the oldest was a 77-year-old man.

Jacinda Ardern said the law was in the process of being updated (AP)

Court documents named the man as 32-year-old Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, a Tamil Muslim who arrived in New Zealand 10 years ago on a student visa seeking refugee status.

Undercover officers monitoring him from just outside the supermarket sprang into action when they saw shoppers running and heard shouting, police said.

Officers and shot him dead within a couple of minutes of him beginning his attack. A bystander’s video records the sound of 10 shots being fired in rapid succession.

Armed police outside a mosque in Auckland (AP)

The attack has highlighted deficiencies in New Zealand’s anti-terror laws, which experts say are too focused on punishing actions and inadequate for dealing with plots before they are carried out.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said MPs were close to filling some of those legislative holes when the attack occurred. She vowed law changes by the end of the month.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the law officers were working under required a suspect to make the first move.

“We might have an understanding of intent, and ideology, and we might have high levels of concern,” Mr Coster said. “But that is not sufficient for us to take any enforcement action.”

Samsudeen was first noticed by police in 2016 when he started posting support for terror attacks and violent extremism on Facebook.

Police twice confronted him, but he kept on posting. In 2017, they arrested him at Auckland Airport.

Seven people were hurt in the attack (AP)

He was headed for Syria, authorities say, presumably to join the IS insurgency.

Police searches found he had a hunting knife and some banned propaganda material, and he was later released on bail. In 2018, he bought another knife, and police found two IS videos.

He spent the next three years in jail after pleading guilty to various crimes and for breaching bail. On new charges in May, a jury found Samsudeen guilty on two counts of possessing objectionable videos, both of which showed IS imagery, including the group’s flag and a man in a black balaclava holding a semi-automatic weapon.

However, the videos did not show violent murders like some IS videos, and were not classified as the worst kind of illicit material.

High court Judge Sally Fitzgerald described the contents as religious hymns sung in Arabic. She said the videos described obtaining martyrdom on the battlefield by being killed for God’s cause.

Three people were critically injured in the incident (AP)

A court report warned Samsudeen had the motivation and means to commit violent acts in the community and posed a high risk.

It described him as harbouring extreme attitudes, living an isolated lifestyle, and having a sense of entitlement.

But the judge decided to release him, sentencing him to a year’s supervision at an Auckland mosque, where a leader had confirmed his willingness to help and support Samsudeen on his release.

The judge said she rejected arguments Samsudeen had simply stumbled on the videos and was trying to improve his Arabic. She said an aggravating factor was that he was on bail for earlier, similar offences and had tried to delete his internet browser history.

Judge Fitzgerald noted the extreme concerns of police, saying she did not know if they were right, adding: “I sincerely hope they are not.”

She also banned Samsudeen from owning any devices that could access the internet, unless approved in writing by a probation officer, and ordered that he provide access to any social media accounts he held.

The attacker was well known to authorities (AP)

“I am of the view that the risk of you reoffending in a similar way to the charges upon which you were convicted remains high,” the judge concluded. “Your rehabilitation is accordingly key.”

Two months later, Samsudeen took a train from a mosque in the Auckland suburb of Glen Eden where he was living to a Countdown supermarket in New Lynn, tailed at a distance by police.

He wheeled a shopping trolley around the store like the other customers for about 10 minutes. The shop was less crowded than normal due to coronavirus distancing requirements, and undercover police were hanging back so as not to be noticed.

At about 2.40pm he began shouting: “Allahu akbar” – meaning “God is great” – and started stabbing random shoppers, sending people running and screaming, before he was confronted and killed.

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