Exclusive: Taxpayers fork out over $125k in legal aid for New Lynn terrorist

Source: 1News

Taxpayers have paid out over $125,000 in legal aid fees for Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen for a raft of charges he faced in court since 2017.

It comes as a clearer picture of his background is revealed.

Samsudeen was shot dead by police on September 3 after he attacked eight shoppers with a knife, injuring four critically, at the Countdown supermarket in the Auckland suburb of New Lynn.

His attack came just 53 days after he was released from prison, where he had spent almost three years on remand. Samsudeen was then under 24/7 surveillance by police, including members of the Special Tactics Group.

Samsudeen was a Sri Lankan national and a Tamil Muslim, arriving in New Zealand from Sri Lanka on 21 October 2011 on a student visa. The man was granted status as a refugee and later obtained a residency visa.

Samsudeen first came to the attention of authorities less than five years after his arrival and his offending continued.

An Official Information Act request by 1News shows Samsudeen’s total costs in legal aid came to $125,836 for three separate criminal cases.

The Ministry of Justice website states: "Legal aid is government funding to pay for a lawyer for people who cannot afford one, and need one in the interests of justice."

"People who get legal aid may have to repay part or all of their legal aid costs."

A history of Samsudeen’s offending

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 03: Police guard the area around Countdown LynnMall after a violent extremist took out a terrorist attack stabbing six people before being shot by police on September 03, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. A man has been killed by police after injuring multiple people in a mass stabbing incident at LynnMall supermarket in West Auckland. Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern has addressed the country describing the attack as violent and senseless. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Police formally warned Samsudeen on 29 April and 25 May 2016 after he posted Islamic State-related material on the internet, including videos and pictures of graphic war-related violence. He made comments advocating violent extremism and support for other terrorist attacks.

The formal warnings from police didn’t deter him and Samsudeen continued to post content under aliases, including on Facebook.

In early April 2017, he went into a retail store at an Auckland shopping centre where he applied for a Gem Visa credit card instore to purchase a phone. While filling out the application, he provided false employment details and was then issued a credit card with $6,000 credit.

A few days later, the man went to a retail store on Queen Street where he applied for a Q credit card to purchase a watch. Again, he gave false employment details and was given a credit card with $4,500 credit.

On 20 May 2017, after booking a one-way flight for himself, Samsudeen was arrested at Auckland International Airport, with police believing he was on his way to Syria. Police then carried out a search warrant at his apartment where they found a large hunting knife under a mattress that was on the floor, as well as digital files containing propaganda videos and a photo of him posing with a firearm.

Samsudeen was remanded in custody and on 29 June 2018 he pleaded guilty to representative charges of using a document for pecuniary advantage, knowingly distributing restricted publications and failing to assist police officers exercising their search powers.

He was released on bail but he was arrested again on 9 August 2018 after he bought another hunting knife – the same type as the one found in the 2017 police search. He didn’t want to take the knife with him following his purchase, telling the vendor people might think he was a bad person, so arranged for it to be delivered by courier.

Another search warrant was executed and police uncovered more ISIS related content on devices in his apartment.

Samsudeen was kept in custody and was sentenced on 19 September 2018 to 12 months supervision having pleaded guilty in June 2018 to the two charges of dishonestly using a document for a pecuniary advantage, two representative charges of knowingly distributing restricted material, and failing to assist a police officer exercising a search power.

A probation officer who interviewed him for a pre-sentence report said he lived an isolated lifestyle, had a high sense of entitlement and propensity for violence. He showed minimal insight into his offending and believed the charges he pleaded guilty to were “fake”.

Upon assessment, it was stated he posed a medium likelihood of reoffending but with a low risk of harm.

The judge noted he had already spent some 13 months in custody on remand, so a sentence of supervision was appropriate to encourage rehabilitation and reintegration. He would have been free to leave the court had it not been for the further charges he was facing following his second arrest in August 2018.

Samsudeen was charged with offences including possession of offensive weapons and possession of objectionable publications following the August 2018 arrest.

In July 2020, the Crown applied to add an additional charge under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, alleging on or about 9 August 2018, Samsudeen planned or otherwise prepared to cause death or serious bodily injury by purchasing a knife.

The Crown was unsuccessful, and it was rejected by the High Court. The judge noting that the absence of an offence under the Act of planning or preparing a terrorist act “could be an Achilles heel” and referencing both the United Kingdom and Australia as having such an offence.

Mr Samsudeen’s faced a trial before Justice Fitzgerald and a jury which commenced on 17 May 2021. He was found guilty of two charges of possessing an objectionable publication and one charge of failing to assist a police officer exercising a search power, and he was found not guilty of a third charge of possession of objectionable material and a charge of possessing a knife in a public place without reasonable excuse.

Samsudeen was before the court on 6 July 2021 for sentencing on these charges.

Another pre-sentence report provided to the court again noted his isolated lifestyle, sense of entitlement and propensity for violence. However, this time the report concluded that the risk of him re-offending was high, posing a very high risk of harm to others.

The Crown submitted that a sentence of intensive supervision with special conditions was appropriate, including GPS monitoring.

His lawyer disagreed, submitting that the risk of him fleeing the country was not apparent, therefore GPS monitoring (which was only available with a sentence of intensive supervision) was not a necessary condition.

By this stage, Samsudeen had been in custody for some three years – something all parties and the judge acknowledged.

Ultimately, due to the judge being “conscious of the lengthy time you have already spent in custody, and that I must impose the least restrictive sentence that is appropriate,” Samsudeen was sentenced to one year of supervision.

A number of special conditions were imposed including that he was to reside at an Auckland mosque where the president of that mosque was willing to help and support him on his release.

There were restrictions on his possession of electronic devices and social media accounts. He was also ordered to engage in a rehabilitative assessment, including psychological assessment which 1News understands did not take place prior to his death.

Again, he would have been free to leave the court had it not been for additional charges he was facing, this time at the Auckland District Court. He was remanded in custody.

In September 2020, he was charged with injuring and assaulting corrections staff at Mt Eden Prison on 23 June that year. Samsudeen pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody.

He was then granted bail by the District Court on 13 July this year, and three days later, his bail conditions were verified.

Following the attack on September 3, Samsudeen no longer faces trial for injuring and assaulting corrections staff.

His death prompted another urgent court meeting where the District Court lifted name suppression in line with the High Court’s decision – the risk he faced in relation to publication of his refugee status no longer existing.

The police also intend to make an application for a stay, bringing the proceedings he faced in the District Court to a close.