Medical report on LynnMall terrorist 'unreliable', officials said

5:01 pm on 7 September 2021

Officials who initially refused the refugee claim made by Auckland terrorist Ahamed Samsudeen found inconsistencies in his story and said a medical report on him was unreliable.

Ahmed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen appears in the High Court in Auckland on 7 August 2018.

Ahmed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen appears in the High Court in Auckland on 7 August 2018. Photo: New Zealand Herald / Greg Bowker

The Refugee Status Unit rejected Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen's claim in 2012.

But he won an appeal at the immigration and protection tribunal, and its 2013 decision details the attacks he claimed to have suffered in Sri Lanka, including abduction, beatings and burns. The tribunal decided yesterday that it would remove anonymity from the case and republish its decision to grant refugee status.

A paramilitary group linked to the guerrilla organisation Tamil Tigers (LTTE) under Colonel Karuna, had been at odds with his family over three decades, it heard.

His father was a school principal who refused to store weapons belonging to local Tamil Tigers at his school in the 1980s.

"As a consequence of his stance, he was subjected to threats and later, towards the end of the 1980s (before Samsudeen was born) grenades were thrown into the family home. During the early 1990s, further attacks were carried out in [his] village. The local mosque and other buildings were damaged, including a factory operated at the time by [his] mother.

"Around that period gunmen affiliated with a local politician opened fire at [Samsudeen's] home, intending to kill the father. The father was not home at the time, but [his] mother and his cousin ["AA"] were wounded during the attack, AA fatally. This finally led the father to decide that the family needed to move. He eventually managed to secure a transfer to a school near Colombo."

After Karuna left the LTTE and joined the government during a ceasefire, an MP passed documents and recordings from secret meetings between Karuna and government ministers to Samsudeen's father in 2004 for safekeeping.

"[Samsudeen] later learned that his father had hidden that material for a short time before becoming concerned about the risk it created for himself and his family. He tried to return them to the Member of Parliament, without success. Eventually, a man arranged to collect the material from [his] father. The man to whom the father gave the material was killed a few weeks later."

Samsudeen claimed Colonel Karuna still believed his father had the material and first tried to retrieve it by kidnapping and beating the father. His siblings travelled overseas to safety.

Samsudeen alleged he was followed home from school by several men, and was concerned by reports of people asking questions about him. Anonymous phone calls accused the family of being LTTE sympathisers and he changed school, finishing in 2010.

The following year, he said he was on a motorcycle going to work when a vehicle crashed into him. "Several men got out of the vehicle and began kicking and punching him," the tribunal heard. "They hit his head with a plank of wood. The assault was eventually interrupted by bystanders, who took [him] for medical treatment."

He told the tribunal that in 2011 armed men kidnapped him and his father, and bound and blindfolded him for two days.

"During that period [Samsudeen] was periodically tied to a chair. His hair was pulled; he was slapped across the face and beaten about the body. He could hear his father crying out in pain from an adjacent room.

"On the second day the appellant was dragged into a hallway. He was stripped and photographed in front of his father. He was cut, burnt with cigarettes and beaten unconscious."

The father and son were released and went into hiding. Samsudeen escaped to New Zealand on a student visa and applied for asylum a month later.

The tribunal (IPT) recorded that it had access to Immigration New Zealand's file but the decision did not address what the refugee officer had found unreliable about a medical report, nor whether the tribunal weighed up whether it was reliable. No-one represented INZ or its Refugee Status Unit at the hearing.

The IPT cited a clinical psychologist report that "it would be very difficult for him to have fabricated the degree of disturbance displayed during the interviews she conducted".

The psychologist described him as a "highly distressed and damaged young man", who met the criteria for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and who was persistently re-experiencing traumatic events.

His symptoms and conditions could make him appear "inconsistent, vague or suggestible in the face of repeated and multiple questioning from parties in positions of power and authority".

A doctor's examination noted scars on his jaw, possible scarring on his back and ankle and skin damage that could be the result of circular burns.

The IPT ruled that aspects of Samsudeen's account were superficially unsatisfactory, but said it was credible. It also said Samsudeen should be "given the benefit of the doubt" and that his story fitted with information known about Sri Lanka at that time.

"For historic reasons, his family have been within the sights of Karuna and his cohort over a period that spans Karuna's fight against the Sri Lankan government, Karuna joining the Sri Lankan government and, most recently, Karuna becoming a part of the Sri Lankan government. Those difficulties have occurred both in the family village in the east of Sri Lanka, and in Colombo after the family relocated.

"Superimposed onto the general difficulty of living most of his life within a country riven by civil war, [Samsudeen] has experienced the difficulties endured by his father, has himself been the subject of attention by unknown men, has been attacked on his way to work, forced into hiding, the subject of ongoing threats, and abducted, physically mistreated and humiliated in front of his father."

Immigration New Zealand said in a statement it had asked for a national security check on Samsudeen before his student visa was granted and no concerns were identified.

"The refugee claim was assessed by a Refugee and Protection Officer in INZ's Refugee Status Unit and was declined in April 2012 as the claim was found to be lacking in credibility due to a number of inconsistencies in his account and a medical report that was considered unreliable."

It re-opened his refugee claim when it started to look into whether he could be deported as a security threat in 2017.

"During the review of the individual's refugee status, it was established that the documentation he had submitted in his refugee claim was fraudulent. This was on the basis that evidence found on his laptop by police indicated the individual had manufactured written statements from family members in support of his claim and embellished a medical report to align with his claims."

An appeal against the cancellation of his refugee status and against his deportation due to his convictions was still outstanding when he launched the Lynn Mall attack on Friday, injuring seven people. The tribunal would have had to consider whether despite the fraudulent documentation he would still be classed as a protected person who faced serious risks if he was deported back to Sri Lanka.

The IPT issued a ruling yesterday, naming Samsudeen and directing that the 2013 decision be republished with his name.

It said it had taken down the decision on the weekend, partly because of concerns that some of Samusdeen's family in Sri Lanka had been interrogated since the terrorist attack in Auckland, in which he was shot dead by police.

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