On 3rd September 2021, a Sri Lankan refugee, Ahamed Aathill Mohamed Samsudeen, 32, living in Auckland New Zealand , stabbed 6 people with a knife he had just picked up from a supermarket shelf.
According to later reports the man had been once again seeking asylum in New Zealand for some years, but had been denied because of previous violent actions and an interest in ISIS literature, and had been released from a New Zealand prison 3 years before the attacks.
During the subsequent years from Ahamed’s release, he had been constantly followed by Police when out an about in Auckland to monitor his actions and keep others safe.
Auckland was in lockdown 4 at the time of the supermarket attack- masks required and no less than 2 metres between people in places like supermarkets. Within hours the New Zealand prime minister was announcing that this was a ‘terrorist attack’, and that the man was known to her. However Ahamed Aathill Mohamed made no known statements about allegiance to ISIS immediately before his death, and no terrorist organization attributed the stabbings to themselves.
The terror, trauma and physical danger to those he attacked is beyond question, and this blog does not in any way endorse his or any other person’s violent behaviour to others.
With 60 seconds of his knifing of 6 people in the supermarket, he was fatally shot 7 times by Police with semi automatic weapons, who had been following him.
We might contrast his fatal shooting with the response of the Police to a knife attack by a New Zealand European in Dunedin some 4 months before, when at least 4 people were injured. The man was apprehended, and is now in gaol and has been described as having a mental health issue.
Or again the horrendous Mosque shootings in Christchurch in March 2019 where 51 people were killed and 40 injured, by a white supremacist using automatic rifles, the white male was subdued unharmed heroically by a police officer.
While we acknowledge that every violent incident is different and must necessarily be handled differently by Police, it does seem strange that a man in an enclosed supermarket aisle with a kitchen knife, could not be subdued without fatal consequences, by a number of police officers who were presumably wearing protective clothing.
Police subsequently noted that their policy is to shoot for the largest body surface area (i.e. the torso) so that they don’t miss the target, but clearly other options than shooting the attacker dead were possible, or alternatively those seven shots could have immobilised him in that enclosed space, without causing his death.
We know that Ahamed’s life history before his arrival in New Zealand as a young man was incredibly traumatic- witnessing his father being kidnapped and almost killed, and himself being tortured by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
The Spinoff notes that Ahamed ‘had been in New Zealand since 2011 when he arrived on a student visa. He made a claim for refugee status soon after, but was declined. He appealed, and was granted the status the following year. The prime minister said on Friday that his claim was based on a fraudulent document’
We also know that Ahamed had been on remand (i.e. charged with an offence but not convicted in court) in New Zealand for threatening activities for some years before his conviction – during which time he was held in prison, but was not able to access any supports that might have reduced his risk to himself or others because he had at that stage not been convicted and the government was attempting to deport him. Additionally once released from gaol after his conviction, he was constantly tailed by armed Police; actions which would not have helped his fear and paranoia.
It is clear that Ahamed was acutely distressed because of his trauma, but did not receive the necessary supports by New Zealand authorities to reduce the impacts of that trauma and distress. Instead, he was immediately labelled a ‘terrorist’ by the New Zealand prime minister and the New Zealand media after his death, and there was no call for an independent review into his death.
Is it coincidental that 3 violent attacks were handled so very differently by Police; that a dark skinned man could so easily be deemed a terrorist and shot dead, but two white males, despite the acute violence of their attacks, be subdued without fatality?
We are informed that the New Zealand government, in a knee-jerk reaction to this attack, now wants to ‘tighten’ the responses around ‘terrorist activities’. Andrew Geddis has noted that the draft legislation’s proposal, allowing for people to be prosecuted for planning an activity, but not actually executing that plan , is currently an unheard of judicial procedure in New Zealand.
Listen to the University of Otago Peace and Conflict studies debate about the ‘terrorist attack’ below.
We need to acknowledge too, that no act of violence is acceptable; whether it be in a persons’ home, a random attack in public, a terrorist attack, or violence by the state.
The terror of those 2997 killed, and the trauma experienced by those many bereaved and the first responders to the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001, are very real and still raw. However the barbaric responses to those attacks by the United States and their ‘Coalition of the Willing’, defies both logic and humanity. Millions of people in Arab nations killed, economies and environments ravaged, and thousands tortured or drone murdered, with the rationale being suppression of terrorism, rather than the reality of more arms sales and theft of foreign resources, and the resultant creation of more angry terrorists.
As Chris Hedges notes, those responses are the work of evil killers. The fact that ex President George W Bush can stand up on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and be applauded in Western media for his demonic destruction of Iraq, and Afghanistan, defies belief.
In any sane and just society, such a man ( along with the deranged Tony Blair and their other neoliberal cronies)
would have long ago been locked away for their lifetimes – for the common good.
What we desperately need now is for ex-colonial states like New Zealand, to show global leadership in addressing terror threats, in the absence of leadership from the larger powers.
We need to undertake more research to explore opportunities to better respond to threats of violence, to implement strategies that reduce group and individual threats of terror; through acknowledging the genuine basis of the anger, trauma and fear that created those threats, acknowledging that often our state responses to ‘terror’ threats by ‘others with dark skins’ is a relic of our racist and colonial history, (as witnessed by New Zealand Police’s infamous ‘anti-terrorist’ raids into the Ureweras in 2007); and beginning to treat responses to terror threats as a normal and just and equitable part of our range of enforcement and judicial responses to violence, which respects everyone’s human rights, rather than something that needs to be responded to beyond the normal rule of law.