Auckland mall terrorist attack: Calls for law changes mount

Calls are mounting for law changes in light of Friday’s terrorist attack at a West Auckland supermarket that has several still people fighting for their lives.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson on Sunday said prior to the attack occurring, anything and everything authorities could have done was done.

He vowed laws around immigration and terrorism suppression would be changed where needed to prevent future similar situations.

“We have at every turn gone to every part of the law … left no stone left unturned,” he said.

On Friday afternoon 32-year-old Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen was shot dead by police from the Special Tactics Group after the terrifying incident in which five people were stabbed and two others injured.

Three of the victims remained in hospital in a critical condition on Sunday after receiving injuries mainly to their torsos and necks.

Samsudeen – described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern soon after the attack as a terrorist – was an identified threat, a dangerous high risk to the public, on a terror watch-list, and was under 24/7 surveillance.

Robertson said as part of law changes they were looking into the Immigration Act.

Samsudeen had arrived in New Zealand in October 2011 from Sri Lanka and was granted refugee status two years later.

Ardern said it turned out he had used fraudulent documentation. Officials tried to revoke his refugee status in 2018, but he appealed and a final decision was yet to be made on whether he could be deported.

“The Government at every turn sought a remedy for this and at every turn we found we weren’t able to [deport him],” Robertson said.

National leader Judith Collins told TVNZ’s Q and A her party would back law changes and wanted to work with the Government.

She wanted the Government to be able to strip citizenship or residency from those who have moved to New Zealand but then committed a violent act.

The man had allegedly been planning a knife attack earlier this year, but he couldn’t be charged with planning a terrorist attack because it wasn’t an existing offence.

It is, however, an offence in the Counter Terrorism Legislation Bill, currently before select committee, which the National Party supported at first reading.

Act Party leader David Seymour said they wanted to see changes to the Immigration Act that would allow people to be detained and ultimately deported if they posed a threat to New Zealand.

They also supported making preparing to commit terrorism a crime.

Meanwhile, law experts have been urging caution around rushing through legislation that could have unintended consequences.

Legal expert Andrew Geddis told RNZ the proposed legislation meant “even just thinking about doing it will be an offence for which you could go to jail for up to seven years”.

It was also not clear if the man would have been sentenced to jail if the law had already been changed.

He had already been convicted of possessing material that promoted terrorism, which could be punished by up to 10 years’ jail, but the judge chose a supervision sentence, meaning he was allowed to be in the community with conditions, including undergoing a psychological assessment.

There had also been questions around whether Samsudeen could have been detained and committed under the Mental Health Act, given his mental health and that he was being monitored by authorities after serving a prison sentence.

Robertson said it was not possible to detain Samsudeen as he did not meet the criteria.

Lawyer Alden Ho, of Crimson Legal, told the Herald it was not possible for him to be detained as he had refused a psychological assessment.

“A further difficulty is how the Act construes the definition of ‘mental disorder’ which excludes a person’s political, religious or cultural beliefs.”

The Mental Health Foundation also said in a statement terrorist ideologies were not symptoms of any mental illness.

The Mental Health Act was not to be used as “a stopgap to plug holes in criminal law”.

“It should never – ever – be used punitively. Mental health support is not a punishment. It’s a human right.”

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