Documents reveal legal wrangles of New Lynn knife attacker shot dead by police

4:30 pm on 14 December 2022
Countdown LynnMall and Ahmed Samsudeen, also known as Ahamed

Photo: 2021 Getty Images / NZ Herald / Greg Bowker

A year after the New Lynn supermarket knifeman asked immigration officials to revoke his residence, he told them to hurry up his deportation.

Newly-released documents show Ahamed Samsudeen asking for "early service and execution of a deportation order". He went on to fight government attempts to send him back to Sri Lanka. Less than a month after asking to leave the country, his lawyer lodged an appeal against deportation.

It ended up being the last chance New Zealand had to deport the 32-year-old, whose refugee status was cancelled in 2019.

Samsudeen seriously injured four women and one man with a knife during the attack at Countdown in LynnMall in September 2021 before he was shot dead by police who were following him. Another man suffered a minor wound, and another dislocated his shoulder while trying to stop the attack.

Samsudeen had been monitored since 2015 because of his interest in Islamic State, and he was arrested at Auckland airport in 2017. The authorities believed he was a threat to national security and that he was trying to join ISIS in Syria.

He spent most of the next four years on remand in jail.

Legal advice from two months before he was released in July last year show a Crown lawyer made a case for him being detained while his deportation appeal was concluded, but eventually it was decided he should be freed. How that decision was reached has still not been revealed.

A deportation document prepared for then immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway in 2019 details Samsudeen's history.

"On 9 May 2018 INZ received a handwritten letter from Mr Mohamed Samsudeen stating he wanted to renounce his permanent residence and refugee status because of a change in his circumstances. [He] requested INZ send an immigration officer to speak with him. On 17 May 2018, an officer from compliance and border operations of INZ visited Mr Samsudeen at Rimutaka prison.

"He advised that he wished to renounce his refugee status and residency and leave New Zealand when his court matters had been concluded. He said the change in his circumstances was that he no longer wanted the protection of New Zealand and wanted to leave. He said he believed that there was no threat to his safety if he were able to return to Sri Lanka and that he believes he will be safe so long as the Karuna group are not in power."

Samudeen believed the charges he faced were fake and he described himself as an activist or journalist.

A week later, a refugee and protection officer also visited him, but he would not speak to them.

When he was served a notice about his refugee status potentially being cancelled, he changed his mind, saying he was "afraid for his safety if he returned to Sri Lanka and that his interview by the compliance officer had been misinterpreted".

Among the concerns were that Sri Lankan authorities would have been alerted to his arrival back into the country by an Interpol green notice, which are warnings about criminals or those who pose a threat to public safety.

In February 2019, two different deportation notices were issued, one based on the cancellation of his refugee status and another because of his convictions, which included using a document for pecuniary advantage.

By April, Samsudeen had asked for that deportation to be expedited.

"I refer to your request for the early service and execution of a deportation order," wrote a senior manager on 15 April.

"Once you are served with a deportation order early in accordance with section 175 of the Immigration Act 2009 you will no longer be able to exercise a right of appeal against your deportation.

"Also attached with this letter is a confirmation that you have requested the early service of a deportation order and that you understand once this has occurred you will no longer have a right of appeal against deportation. If you still wish to proceed, please sign and date the confirmation and return it to me."

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A deportation document prepared for then immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway in 2019 detailed Samsudeen's history. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

But a lawyer lodged an appeal against deportation just a fortnight later. It was to be the start of an appeal process that kept Samsudeen in New Zealand another two years, past his prison release.

The government has been consulting on whether the law should be changed to allow the deportation of those who are 'protected persons' under international law if they pose a risk to New Zealand.

A spokesperson said officials had been "developing options for the government to consider".

"This is a complex area of law, involving human rights and individuals' immigration status.

"It is crucial that we get it right. In addition to this work we have also amended the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 to include the planning or preparation of a terrorist act as a criminal offence to provide police with additional tools to stop this kind of attack."

Immigration lawyer Stewart Dalley said questions remained about the advice given before officials cancelled his refugee status, and whether other options were explored.

"There was a window then to deport if they had certified him a security threat."

'My past is making me sick. Always running inside my head'

The detail of Ahamed Samsudeen's refugee claim, in his own words, has not been released until now.

A doctor's report recounted several cigarette burns over his chest and injuries caused by being beaten with wires over his head and back.

His father had become the target of a group headed by a former Tamil Tiger leader, Karuna Amman, implicated in a string of human rights violations.

His refugee claim recorded how in 2010 he was forced off the road by a van, beaten and left for dead by a stream. Secret recordings of Colonel Karuna had come into his father's possession, and the threats and violence escalated as the Karuna group mistakenly believed he still had them.

"Around 3am, someone started banging the door and they said 'open the door'. So from the top I saw through the grille someone was there with weapons that tried to break the door."

The men, carrying AK47s, left when neighbours arrived but his father said he and his son should leave.

Months later, they were found and abducted for two days.

"They took us in a van. It was night, they took us for a while - it was a lonely place, empty land, ruined place. Nobody was there. It took 35 to 40 minutes and then took us in another van, no number plate on it. They kicked us out and asked us to get into another van. They punched us.

"They tied our hands, blindfolded and hands tied up. I was trying to call my father, they took me to a room and beat me. They hit me in the face and one kicked me in the back, one hit against my head continuously hitting, pull my hair, they were continuously beating me. There were bad mouthing, beating. I could hear they were beating my father. I could hear the sound. I could hear my father shouting in the next room.

"Next day, he was bleeding and crying. They dragged me to the hall and that time I saw my father. They took all my clothes off. They took photos naked in front of my father."

The family had already sent some of his older siblings to other countries for protection, and his father decided it was time to do the same with Samsudeen.

"Dad said Karuna spoke and said 'all evidence should be given to me within a week otherwise I will kill your son'. My father knows their next step was killing me. So he made his move and sent me as soon as possible out of country."

His father was a school principal, who had defied militia by refusing to help them in the 1980s, and asked for better security for their town after 150 people died in a massacre in a mosque there in 1990.

But his refugee status was cancelled when discrepancies were found in the account. Officials said it may have been procured by fraud, and that his family had not suffered any further harm from Karuna for many years.

"My family is a well educated family, please give me a life," he wrote in his refugee claim in 2011. "My past is making me sick. Always running inside my head. That's why I'm trying to change. Even my family members know how much I'm into problem. From the day one when I was born.

"My father is still living in hideouts. I will be killed if I was deported back from New Zealand. I indeed ask you a great favour in life to save me and give me an opportunity to live my life without any fears like all the others.

"I know life will never be the same again as my peaceful childhood. But if you do grant me permission on my asylum, I will restart a new peaceful and safe journey in your respected country."

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