Muslim leader 'baffled' Corrections passed up rehabilitation offer for LynnMall terrorist

6:36 pm on 6 September 2021

The New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA) is "baffled" the LynnMall terrorist was put up in a small Islamic centre after Corrections turned down its offer to help rehabilitate him.

Police on guard at Masjid-E-Bilal mosque in Glen Eden, west Auckland - 4 September 2021

Police on guard at Masjid e Bilal in Glen Eden on Saturday, the day after the attack. Photo: RNZ / Jean Bell

Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen had been living in the annex of Masjid e Bilal, a small Islamic Centre in Glen Eden, west Auckland, since he got out of prison in July.

The 32-year-old was under 24/7 surveillance when he stabbed six people before being shot dead in the Countdown supermarket at LynnMall on Friday afternoon.

NZMA president Ikhlaq Kashkari says the terror attack may have been prevented if Corrections had taken up the association's offer to help rehabilitate Samsudeen after his release.

"A feel that they did not want to have formal accountability once he was out because what I was asking for was for formal accountability and responsibility. I wanted it documented so we all understood what our roles and responsibilities were and what we'd do if things didn't work."

Emails seen by RNZ show Corrections officials met with Kashkari and others at the Avondale Islamic Centre in October 2020, when Samsudeen was still in prison, to discuss the case.

The association said it was happy to support rehabilitation efforts but raised concerns about reputational risks, its own community's wellbeing and a drain on resourcing.

It helped facilitate two prison visits from one of its Imaams before communications went cold until May 2021, when Corrections advised NZMA of Samsudeen's upcoming trial and likely outcomes.

"It is possible that based on the time already spent in prison he is likely to receive 'time served'. However, he will remain in our custody until mid-June regarding some other matters. We continue to work to find suitable accommodation for him upon his release," the email from Corrections reads.

"It was a shame he was not willing to engage with the religious and cultural support as we had hoped. At this stage we are not sure on his intent to engage with the Muslim community."

Kashkari said this was the last communication with Corrections until news broke of the stabbing attack.

"When they told me he was going to be released, and that he had refused any religious counselling, I just left it there. I didn't think any further until I heard this incident happened and came to know that it was him that committed that crime.

"I was absolutely shocked and I'm still upset to be honest. I'm upset because, what if we'd done things properly? Would this have been avoided?"

Kashkari said Glen Eden's Masjid e Bilal had limiting resourcing compared to the New Zealand Muslim Association, the country's foremost Muslim group founded in the 1950s.

"We're a large organisation. We have skills, capabilities, people and resources to support something like this but we wanted to make sure it's done properly. I have no idea how on earth they managed to talk this small Islamic centre, who were basically renting a property, to take him on board.

"I know the person that runs it used to work in the prison on behalf of Muslim community chaplains, a service provided to prisons, but that's about it. Their skills, resources and capabilities beyond that is very, very limited."

He said he could not understand the rationale behind Corrections releasing Samsudeen to such a small, scarcely resourced Islamic centre and wanted to know if those at the centre were put under any pressure to take him in.

"If I was to have a cynical view of it I would say they wanted to get rid of him. They did not want to have ownership because I was going to [make them] take ownership and accountability. They didn't want to be part of that and they just basically found somebody who could just take it without actually thinking about it, with unfortunate consequences."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the terrorist had demonstrated a "pattern of reluctance to engage" with relevant government agencies over time.

"Whilst there is information that we have around the timelines of what happened and when ... the engagement in the system, it won't necessarily be every engagement with, for instance, community organisations or community leaders. That's why I do think that there is room for us to take a look at every element of this.

"Some of those standard reviews that will take place in a case like that will help with this. What we're going to do is just have a look and see are there any gaps in that, that means we won't dig into some of those issues that we need to but we need to be willing to learn."

After publication of this article, Corrections provided a written statement saying for people with extremist views it builds an individualised plan "focused on disengaging them from the potential use of violence". 

The department said it discussed with its Countering Violent Extremism forum the need to find a suitable Imam, and forum members recommended one who met with the terrorist's lawyers, the NZMA, police and others in October last year to talk about the Imam visiting him in prison. 

"Following the meeting the Imam visited the offender in prison twice, however he failed to engage meaningfully. Because the scope of the meeting was about providing cultural and spiritual support to the offender while he was in prison, and the offender was reluctant to engage with the Imam, no further meetings took place with either the Imam or NZMA. We remain grateful to the group for the support that they provided," Corrections said. 

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