The Sri Lankan national shot dead inside a shopping mall in Auckland on Friday after he attacked several locals has been identified as Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen, a 32-year-old from the Eastern town of Kattankudy.
He went to New Zealand on a student visa in 2011 and then asked for political asylum claiming he and his father were experiencing problems in Sri Lanka with the authorities.
Sri Lankan Police yesterday launched an investigation into the man’s family and have already traced his mother.
New Zealand Police were being hampered in their investigations until a High Court suppression order preventing details about his identity and background being made public lapsed.
Samsudeen had applied for refugee status soon after arriving in New Zealand on a student visa in October 2011. His refugee status was granted on December 20, 2013 after a tribunal found he had a well-founded fear of facing harm if he returned to Sri Lanka.
However, on May 31, 2018, New Zealand’s Refugee Status Branch served Samsudeen notice of its intention to cancel his refugee status – meaning he would be deported to Sri Lanka – after a string of incidents in which he posted extremist videos and pictures online.
In Colombo, Police Headquarters said the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has already launched a probe to identify any persons that the terrorist had been in contact with in Sri Lanka.
Police sources said the terrorist had relocated from Kattankudy to Colombo as far back as 1998 for schooling and that they had traced his mother who is still living in Kattankudy. Investigators believe his more recent local contacts are mostly in Colombo. He had completed his studies in Colombo before moving to New Zealand in 2011 as a 22-year-old.
Samsudeen reportedly studied at a leading Tamil school in Colombo. However, its principal told the Sunday Times yesterday he could still not confirm this as he has so far been unable to access the school’s past student records due to the office being closed after a minor employee tested positive for COVID-19.
The terrorist, who New Zealand Police said had been inspired by Islamic State (ISIS) ideology, carried out a “lone wolf” knife attack at the Countdown Supermarket at New Lynn Mall in Auckland on Friday. Seven people were injured in the attack – three of them critically, before the attacker was gunned down by police units assigned to keep him under surveillance.
He was not known to have held extremist views at the time he arrived in New Zealand in 2011, according to New Zealand authorities.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry stated Sri Lanka had sought more details from New Zealand authorities over reports that the attack had been carried out by a Sri Lankan national.
The statement condemned the attack and stressed Sri Lanka was “ready to cooperate with New Zealand authorities in any way necessary.”
Muslim groups in Sri Lanka too issued statements condemning the attack and standing in solidarity with the people of New Zealand.
“On behalf of all Sri Lankans, and Sri Lankan Muslim community in particular, we unequivocally condemn this senseless and terrible act of violence,” a joint statement signed by 22 Muslim groups in the country stressed.
Addressing a news conference yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the attacker had first come to the attention of law enforcement authorities in 2016 after he posted violent and extremist material on his Facebook page and expressed support for ISIS. In May 2017, he was arrested at the Auckland Airport while trying to make his way to Syria.
He was subsequently released on bail but was arrested again in 2018 after buying a hunting knife and extremist content were found at his apartment. He had been released after three years in remand custody in July this year after authorities exhausted all legal avenues to keep him behind bars, the New Zealand PM said.
The individual, however, had been under constant surveillance by police due to him being an active threat. It had been officers who were part of this surveillance operation that ultimately shot and killed him inside the supermarket after he started stabbing shoppers with a knife he grabbed from a shelf.
In the wake of the attacks, Premier Ardern said her government would expedite measures to tighten the country’s counterterrorism laws by introducing amendments that would criminalise planning and preparation that might lead to an attack, closing what critics have said has been a legal loophole allowing plotters to stay free.