New Zealand Terror Attack: Islamic State-Inspired Terrorist Had Been On Terror Watchlist For Years
On Friday (3 September), a knife-wielding person inspired by the Islamic State, attacked and injured at least six persons in Auckland, New Zealand. He was shot dead within 60 seconds of the attack.
Thirty-two-year-old Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen hailed from Sri Lanka and was living in New Zealand for 10 years. He arrived in the country on a student visa in 2011. He became a person of national security interest in 2016 because of his radical views.
He had been reportedly been under round-the-clock monitoring and heavy surveillance. Samsudeen was known to multiple agencies, and was also on a terror watchlist. He had also recently been sentenced to one year of supervision for possessing IS propaganda.
In fact, prosecutors had accused him of plotting a "lone wolf" terror attack using knives, but the judge ruled that planning a terror attack was not in itself an offence under existing laws.
In response to the criticism that a person like Samsudeen should have been stopped much earlier, the Jacinda Ardern-led government is planning to change the country's counter-terrorism legislation to make it more stringent.
Kattankudy — Terror Hotbed?
Samsudeen hailed from Kattankudy, a Muslim-majority town 330 km east of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, Kattankudy was also the home of some of the attackers behind Easter suicide bombings in 2019 that left more than 270 dead.
At the time, experts had flagged the flow of Saudi money and resulting proliferation of mosques and madrassas in the town as spreading the Jihadist ideology. After the Easter bombings, one man in particular —Muhammad Hizbullah — a businessman and politician who was the governor of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province was brought into focus.
Hizbullah’s family helped build Saudi-financed mosques, schools and colleges. The projects were led by the Hira Foundation, a non-profit owned by Hizbullah and his son Hiras.
Authorities are now investigating if Samsudeen had any links with those who perpetrated Easter bombings as both pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
The story of local politicians and strongmen channeling Saudi money to spread Jihadist ideology is not unique to Sri Lanka. Saudi-funded religious education has been a focus of debates in European countries including France, UK etc.
In India, the spread of Wahhabism through Salafist preachers led to the wiping out of the Sufi tradition in Kashmir. Asit Jolly, in a 2011 India Today article, ‘The Wahhabi Invasion’, notes how hundreds of mosques and madrassas financed by Gulf money operate in the Valley.
The money is routed through religious and charitable organisations which not only provide the Salafi materials, but also technological aids, gadgets and satellite televisions to spread the ideology. They also finance the local youth to go study at the Islamic universities in the Gulf.
In a sting operation carried out by India Today in 2018 in Kerala, the investigators reported their findings as follows: “Aided by hawala funding from petrodollar-rich Gulf countries, these seminaries were found to be indoctrinating young impressionable minds with what has been the wicked goal of ISIS to establish a global caliphate through a world-wide war”.
Samsudeen's story also shows how the Islamists use people's vulnerabilities as openings, whether it be minor girls from broken homes in Huddersfield, UK or young college students in Kerala.
The mother of the New Zealand terrorist, Ismail Fareeda, told a local TV channel in Sri Lanka that her son was “brainwashed” by neighbours from the Middle East.
She said Samsudeen was injured in a fall in 2016 and that the neighbours from Iraq and Syria seized the opportunity to influence him, adding they “were the only people who helped him as he recovered”.
“Those neighbours from Syria and Iraq are the ones who brainwashed him,” she said, adding her son had started posting radical views on social media after meeting the neighbours. “We knew there was a change in him. The change came after he left the country” and settled in New Zealand in 2011, she said.
The Sri Lankan government is coordinating with the New Zealand to investigate the attack. Police sources said criminal investigators had interviewed the attacker’s brother, who lives in Colombo. “We are collecting information about him as well as anyone else who may have had contacts with him,” a top police official said.
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