Even NZ’s own Islamic academics admit the solution to radical Islam is not more Islam! But not NZ Imams, who are paid by the Saudi’s etc to teach this is the eternal word of their deity via the perfect role-model for mankind.
Quran 2:216. Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And God knows, while you know not.
Last Friday afternoon, Imam Muhammed Shaakir received a phone call. There had been a stabbing at a New Lynn supermarket. Shoppers were injured, and the attacker – a religious fanatic – was dead.
As the imam of the Avondale Islamic Centre, Shaakir’s attention immediately turned to the Muslim community, and the need to shield them from any backlash.
“I was grieving the fact that this had happened on New Zealand soil. But it didn’t even cross my mind that I knew the person who had done this. Before long, I discovered the name of the attacker, and I was truly shocked.”
Quran 2:191. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and unbelief is worse than killing.
Just months earlier, Shaakir drove to the maximum-security Auckland Prison. After weaving through a labyrinth of guard posts and gates, he was led into a special unit for prisoners of “extreme risk” – a unit originally built to house the gunman behind the Christchurch terror attack.
In a secure meeting room, Shaakir sat face-to-face with Aathill Samsudeen, a 31-year-old obsessed with violent, terror-inspired content. From behind a solid pane of glass, Shaakir tried to make a connection.
“Although he didn’t know me from a bar of soap, he was really excited to sit with me. He was very calm, and we had a good discussion. I tried to get inside his mind to understand how he had been radicalised, and how I could assist and rehabilitate him.”
Shaakir wasn’t the only Muslim leader who believed Samsudeen needed help to rewrite his radical beliefs. Three years earlier, Auckland barrister Aarif Rasheed tried to persuade authorities to do exactly that.
“They had characterised Aathill as a terrorist sympathiser,” says Rasheed. “However, he was the first to admit his lack of Islamic knowledge, and he was willing to learn. With the right support, we had the chance to get this guy on the right path.”
The Government wanted to deport Samsudeen, or at the very least, keep him behind bars. When it discovered it could do neither, he was released in July – without being rehabilitated. Seven weeks later, he lay dead in a New Lynn supermarket, after wounding seven people.
Today, Rasheed and Shaakir speak publicly for the first time about their efforts to rehabilitate Samsudeen, and the opportunities they believe were missed.
“For years, the authorities had treated this man as a terrorist – labelling him a terrorist, and convincing him that he is a terrorist,” says Rasheed.
“But let’s not forget that he lived in New Zealand for a decade before committing the act that actually made him a terrorist. The question we have to ask is, ‘Did we find a terrorist? Or did we create one?’”
When Aathill Samsudeen reached out for help, one of the first people he grabbed hold of was Aarif Rasheed.
The Auckland defence lawyer received a call from Samsudeen out of the blue in late 2017. Samsudeen, a 28-year-old refugee with no criminal history in New Zealand, was being held in custody after sharing violent content on Facebook.
“When Aathill phoned me from prison, he wanted pastoral support from the Muslim community,” says Rasheed. “The most striking thing about his situation was just how isolated he was. He really needed human connection.”
Alongside his work as a barrister, Rasheed had created Just Community, an organisation providing cultural support within the criminal justice system. The group also helps to rehabilitate offenders with extremist ideology.
Samsudeen’s online history revealed his fixation on weapons and ISIS propaganda. He had posted comments expressing support for terror attacks in Europe, and alluding to martyrdom. Police found a large hunting knife under his mattress. They also suspected he was trying to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
Rasheed says Samsudeen had been exposed to online religious content that was “unstructured, emotive, misguided and politically-motivated”, making him ripe for radicalisation.
“When someone is isolated from a formal religious tradition – and confused about their identity – they’re vulnerable. They can cherry-pick any beliefs that suit their political ideology. It leaves them with a very puritanical, extreme form of religion.”
But was he a threat? Rasheed sought input from Dr Clarke Jones, a counter-terrorism expert at Australian National University. Jones concluded that although Samsudeen was clearly aggrieved by political and social issues, he was not motivated to use violence.
When Samsudeen was released on bail, Rasheed took him to a Muslim library, and introduced him to Islamic scholars who could help to rehabilitate him.
In July 2018, Rasheed wrote to the High Court, proposing a formal rehabilitation plan for Samsudeen, focusing on Islamic education and social connection. He hoped the man would one day be able to “feel Kiwi” – a goal he described in the report as “aspirational right now, but doable”.
The plan was strong enough to persuade Justice Edwin Wylie. When he sentenced Samsudeen to community supervision, the judge ordered him to complete the rehab programme.
But it never began. Police had laid fresh charges against Samsudeen, including for possessing ISIS-inspired religious hymns. After just weeks in the community, he was back in custody, where he would stay for almost three years.
“Our deradicalisation programme, which was part of his original sentence, would have required him to go on a journey with us, and get some perspective on what he had done,” says Rasheed. “They could have monitored him in the community while we were doing this. But before we could even begin, he was put behind bars again.
“It’s almost impossible to convince someone that they’re not under siege, when the state keeps putting them in prison. It allowed him to remain in his delusion that he was crusading against the state.”
Samsudeen arrived in New Zealand in 2011 on a student visa. By the following year, he was working full-time as a car groomer. He had an empty life, with few friends.
He applied for refugee status, explaining that he had faced physical and psychological trauma in his home country, Sri Lanka.
A psychologist found Samsudeen to be “a highly distressed and damaged young man”, who was experiencing violent thoughts and social isolation. She advised the court to immediately refer Samsudeen to Refugees as Survivors (RASNZ), an organisation that could help him to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress and depression. RASNZ told Stuff it has no record of Samsudeen ever being referred to its service.
In 2015, a foreign intelligence agency contacted the New Zealand Police to alert them to Samsudeen’s online activities. Sources familiar with the case have confirmed to Stuff that, from an early stage, he was flagged as a terror risk.
Victoria University criminologist and terrorism researcher Sara Salman questions whether this terror profile masked the root causes of Samsudeen’s behaviour.
“People who are radicalised online have usually experienced deep social alienation, and that is weaponised by terrorist groups. They aren’t necessarily committed to the ideology of a group like ISIS – rather, the ideology gives them a sense of belonging and meaning.
“After the Christchurch terror attack, people were sharing the video all over the world, and even posting sympathetic comments. This kind of behaviour is deeply concerning, and it does require a response. But we must remember that sharing or even endorsing this kind of content does not automatically make someone a terrorist.”
Salman says when someone is identified as a risk, Western countries often begin an “immediate and punitive” response. While she accepts the need to detain some people in order to protect the community, she says this can be counter-productive.
“When someone is drifting into radicalisation, we see the most benefit from an early approach that moves away from criminalisation and is more focused on reintegrating them into society, rather than stigmatising them. In this case, I wonder if labelling Samsudeen a terror risk actually impeded his chance of rehabilitation.”
During his three years on remand, Samsudeen would ring Aarif Rasheed, asking for pastoral support. Sometimes, there would be months between calls. Other times, he would ring every few days. Rasheed says Samsudeen felt “there was no one in his corner”.
“The Muslim community has been trying to provide basic chaplaincy services to Muslim prisoners for over 15 years, and we have faced roadblocks at every turn. We have little access to any Muslim prisoner – let alone someone with Aathill’s security classification. We can’t just wander in and out of prison. We have to be invited.”
Although Rasheed’s proposed rehab programme would have been difficult to deliver inside a prison, it could have been done. However, he says Corrections did not pursue this.
In a statement, Corrections says Samsudeen was a “very, very difficult person to manage”. He was openly hostile and abusive towards staff, who tried hard to reduce his risk of violence. Samsudeen was “non-compliant” and “consistently refused” to engage.
However, was Samsudeen managed in a culturally responsive way? Samantha Patel, a registered psychologist who has worked in prisons, says forthcoming Government reviews must ask deep questions.
“We’re told this man refused psychological assessment. But how was he offered it? Did he know the person who would interview him? Was he worried they would judge him? Given he comes from a collectivist culture, did they use a support person to help to get him on side? Did they make the request in the middle of Ramadan, while he was fasting?
“Research tells us that the psychological tools we use are far less important than the relationship we have with the offender. If we focus on creating a non-judgemental relationship, we are more likely to see positive change.”
Patel previously worked for Corrections and prison operator Serco. Now, she helps organisations to identify bias, including in the justice sector.
“When someone fears they’re being discriminated against, they will have less cognitive resources and less working memory, because of the anxiety and stress. They become hypervigilant, and that affects their behaviour.
“Was [Samsudeen] seen, heard and valued? Did we train the officers working with him to manage their own biases and respond in a culturally appropriate way? Did he have access to the Quran? Did he know which direction he could pray in? Did he have to share a cell with someone who was eating non-halal food? These are all factors that could affect someone’s behaviour.”
Corrections says it “engaged with the local Muslim community”, and asked an imam to visit Samsudeen in prison. That person was Imam Muhammed Shaakir. In December 2020, he spent a full hour with Samsudeen, and describes it as a calm, promising first meeting.
But Corrections never followed up with him – “no conversation, no emails, no calls, nothing”. Five months later, Corrections contacted Shaakir during Ramadan. Samsudeen had asked to see him. Despite having a full schedule of prayers and community activities, Shaakir went to the prison.
“This time, I found [Samsudeen] to be a very different person. He was frustrated and agitated – not towards me, but towards the prison guards. He didn’t deny that he was abusing them and spitting at them. He told me he was being provoked, and felt trapped.”
Again, there was no follow-up from Corrections. In a statement last week, the agency said Samsudeen “met with the imam twice, however he didn’t engage in a meaningful way”. Shaakir flatly disputes this.
“Absolutely not. From my point of view, he was excited and happy to have me there. In fact, he wanted me to spend more time with him. When our hour lapsed and I stood up to leave, he said, ‘No, it’s fine – you should stay’.”
By himself, Shaakir says he would have found it difficult to deradicalise Samsudeen, but a collective, strategic approach could have been successful.
“We needed to wrap our hands around this brother and make him feel part of a family. You need time with a person to get them on your side and find common ground, before you start the process of education and deradicalisation.
“Corrections had three years to deal with this situation. What did they expect? That in just two visits, everything was hunky dory, and we can move on? It doesn’t work like that.”
A few months ago, Aarif Rasheed received a phone call from Samsudeen. He had been given a surprising piece of news: the Government was preparing to release him, as it could not lawfully detain him any longer.
“He said, ‘These new people are coming to see me, and they’re trying to do stuff for me’. That was a little confusing for him. For so long, he had been made to feel like an enemy of the state. Then, all of a sudden, they were rushing to get him out.”
Corrections sought public housing for Samsudeen, but that was not available due to high demand. He agreed to be placed at a mosque in Glen Eden. The small centre does not have an imam, but its leaders agreed to accommodate him.
Corrections says it did “extensive planning” with other agencies to protect the community from Samsudeen’s “violent extremist ideology”.
But key figures in the Muslim community – including Shaakir and Rasheed – were kept in the dark. The New Zealand Muslim Association, which had been consulted on earlier proposals for the release, says it was not told that Samsudeen was being let out.
“They placed him at this little mosque, where the leaders are unpaid, part-time volunteers,” says Rasheed. “It was like, ‘Here’s a guy who is vulnerable and susceptible to agitation, who we’ve just put through three years of social isolation. Thanks very much for taking him off our hands.’
“Aathill didn’t just need to be with people of his own faith. He needed to be under the supervision of people who had the skills to manage him. The people at that mosque were never equipped for that. There are reports of him becoming distressed and unstable within weeks of being released.”
Rasheed and Shaakir were never asked to be involved with Samsudeen’s release. Both of them had already given their time and support for free.
“Instead of working with us, they did everything clandestinely, and farmed him off to a small mosque. Were they simply waiting for him to do something, so they could put the guy away again?”
Two Fridays ago, Rasheed received the news that Samsudeen had attacked people in a supermarket. Until that moment, he believed Samsudeen was still in prison.
“I thought, ‘Oh, so he was out? That means they released him. That means they put him somewhere we didn’t know.’ I was reconstructing the whole chain of events that must have happened without my knowledge. On a raw, emotional level, I was just gutted.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says state agencies did “everything within their power” to deport or detain Samsudeen. Shaakir says the Government must examine whether it also used every avenue to rehabilitate Samsudeen.
“We abhor, denounce and vehemently condemn his actions. But I am sad. We could have done more to assist in the rehabilitation of the brother, if we had been given more of an opportunity to do that.”
Government-led reviews will reveal the full facts around the case. But the people interviewed for this story say those enquiries also need to address a much wider question: did our justice system feed the exact ideology that it was trying to suppress in Samsudeen? And in doing so, did it lead a traumatised, isolated young man even further down the road to becoming a terrorist?
“The problem with the blunt label ‘terrorist’ is that it excludes everything else that was going on for this guy,” says Rasheed. “It excludes the longstanding mental health issues that were flagged not long after he arrived. It excludes his refugee background, and his own experience of terror.
“There’s an old saying, ‘Hurt people hurt people’. Aathill is responsible for the hurt he caused last Friday. But as a country, will we take some of the responsibility for who he became?”