In Colombo, September 5 (Counterpoint): The 32-year old Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen from Kathankudy in East Sri Lanka, who knifed seven persons in an Auckland shopping complex, got refugee status in New Zealand by posing as a persecuted Sri Lankan “Tamil” Muslim, it appears.
He gave the story that Tamils in Sri Lanka were pursued by the Sri Lankan state for alleged links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and that he was a “Tamil Muslim” and therefore subject to persecution.
The New Zealand police had clearly believed the story probably because they did not know that the Tamils and Muslims are two distinct communities in Sri Lanka and that the LTTE was a Tamil organization which was against the Muslims also.
According to www.newsroom.co.nz when Samsudeen’s links with the ISIS were established, and the government began moves to cancel his refugee status and deport him he told the court: “I’m very afraid of returning to Sri Lanka because I’m afraid of the authorities there and the same risks and fears (that) I had when I left my country are still there in Sri Lanka. Also young Tamil men face many serious problems in Sri Lanka from the authorities. We face arrest, detention, mistreatment and torture as we’re always under suspicions by the authorities because of the (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).”
Earlier too he had told the police that in Sri Lanka “he has been attacked, kidnapped and tortured, that he went into hiding in response to those incidents, and that he came to New Zealand in 2011 to seek refugee status”.
Here he was consistently posing as a persecuted “Tamil” apparently that the story had a ready acceptance in New Zealand and Western nations.
When Samsudeen’s links with the ISIS came to light by his activities in the social media, the New Zealand police tried to get his refugee status revoked so that he could be deported. But the court went by his submission that if sent back to Sri Lanka, he could be arrested, detained, mistreated or tortured.
Repeated attempts to have him stripped of his refugee status were ultimately unsuccessful, hamstrung by what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a “frustrating process.”
Samsudeen was not known to have held extremist views at the time he arrived in New Zealand on a student visa in 2011. It was later that his ISIS links were discovered. He was on his way to Syria when he was arrested.
The New Zealand media reported that when police searched his apartment, they found a large hunting knife under the mattress on the floor and secure digital cards containing fundamentalist material, including propaganda videos and photos of the man posing with a firearm, the New Zealand media said on Sunday .
Samsudeen ended up pleading guilty to distributing restricted publications and was sentenced on that offending in September 2018 to supervision. In July 2018, he had been granted name suppression by Justice Wylie. In his decision on that, Justice Wylie said Samsudeen informed him that he “has been attacked, kidnapped and tortured, that he went into hiding in response to those incidents, and that he came to New Zealand in 2011 to seek refugee status”.
Justice Wylie said that there was a “real and appreciable possibility” that in the event Samsudeen did have his refugee status revoked and was deported, his safety could be in danger.
In May 2018, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made inquiries about Samsudeen’s refugee status and deportation options. On Saturday she gave a media briefing in which she said that in February 2019, Immigration New Zealand cancelled Samsudeen’s refugee status and he was served with deportation liability notices.
But in April 2019, Samsudeen appealed the decision to the Immigration Protection Tribunal. At the time, he was remanded in custody, awaiting a High Court trial on a second set charges relating to offenses committed while he was on bail for the first set of charges in August 2018. He had been arrested after buying another hunting knife and a second search of his room found a large amount of violent ISIS material.
Samsudeen’s appeal against his deportation could not proceed until the conclusion of those court proceedings. In May 2021, a jury found him guilty of two charges of possessing ISIS propaganda that promoted terrorism, and one charge of failing to comply with a search. But he was acquitted of a third charge of possessing objectionable material and a charge of possessing a knife in a public place.
After spending three years remanded in custody, Samsudeen was sentenced in July to 12 months’ supervision. In the meantime, Ardern said agencies were concerned about the risk Samsudeen posed to the community. They also knew he may be released from prison, and that his appeal through the Tribunal, which was stopping his deportation, may take some time.
Immigration officials looked at whether the law would allow them to detain Samsudeen while his deportation appeal was heard but in vain. “It was incredibly disappointing and frustrating when legal advice came back to say this wasn’t an option,” Ardern told the media.
Extensive police surveillance and monitoring of Samsudeen began as soon as he was released from prison, she added.
On August 26, Samsudeen’s hearing in the Immigration and Protection Tribunal was rescheduled. But at the time of the terrorist attack, the question of whether or not he could be deported was unresolved.
Ardern said in July this year she met officials in person and expressed her concern that the law could allow someone to remain here, who obtained their immigration status fraudulently and posed a threat to national security.
“I asked for work to be undertaken to look at whether we should amend our law, in the context of our international obligations,” she said.
Action in Sri Lanka
Meanwhile in Colombo, the Sri Lankan police said that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has launched a probe to identify any persons that the terrorist had been in contact with in Sri Lanka.
According to local media reports on Sunday, Samsudeen relocated himself from Kathankudy to Colombo in 1998 for schooling. He enrolled himself in a leading Colombo Tamil medium school. He had completed his studies in Colombo before moving to New Zealand in 2011 as a 22-year-old.