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Could the New Lynn terrorist attack have been prevented?

It was Friday, September 3, about 2pm. New Lynn resident Rod Khan was at his local supermarket for his weekly shop. 

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Could New Zealand have done more to deradicalise Ahamed Samsudeen before he injured seven people in an attack at a West Auckland supermarket? Source: Sunday

On the shopping list was some tuna. He went from aisle to aisle and managed to grab the last two tins from the shelf. 

Then he heard screams. 

“It was like someone was seriously getting injured,” Khan told Sunday. 

“Then I saw this guy knifing this lady down the end of the aisle like he had stabbed her in the neck, chest and face area.”

Most people would run away. 

Khan didn’t. 

“Yeah, I couldn’t run away from that. I had to go and do something because that’s someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother. I just couldn’t bear it.” 

He ran down the aisles until he was five metres away from terrorist Ahamed Samsudeen

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“I yelled out at him, which made him stop stabbing the lady. He turned around and looked at me and that’s when I threw the two cans which I had in my hand. 

“I hit him straight in the face.” 

But, that made Khan a target. 

“He started coming at me, started swinging the knife at me, inches away from my arms and my face,” he said.

“That’s when I fell back over the trolley.” 

Khan dislocated his shoulder but managed to escape. 

Then gunshots. 

Within minutes, Samsudeen was shot dead by undercover police. By then, he’d injured seven people with a knife. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the country after the attack. 

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The man was a known threat to New Zealand, the PM says. Source: 1 NEWS

“What happened today was despicable, it was hateful and it was wrong. It was carried out by an individual, not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity. It was an individual person who was gripped by ideology that is not supported here,” Ardern said. 

In the days after, Ardern said authorities had tried to pursue multiple legal avenues to keep the terrorist away from the community. A question lingers, however: Was prevention an option? 

Dr Clarke Jones is a counter-terrorism expert at Australian National University. He said the last thing Samsudeen needed was “intensive incarceration and isolation”. 

In 2018, when Samsudeen was facing charges relating to violent online fundamentalism, Jones worked with him and his legal team on a release programme aimed at correcting his views. 

Jones said Samsudeen was “willing to engage”. 

“I still believe that there are underlying issues that were nothing to do with religion,” Jones said of the terrorist’s limited and flawed understanding of Islam, twisted by Islamic State ideology.

“He really was a loner, and, you know, arriving in New Zealand on his own. It really is all part of the problem.” 

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The judge accepted the plan for Samsudeen's transition from prison. But, he was held on other charges and it didn't go ahead.

“My concern is we tend to see these sorts of offenders through one lens. If you see them through a terrorism lens, we've got the wrong framing in relation to rehabilitation. That really played out here,” Jones said.

By 2020, Samsudeen was still in prison. Corrections wanted to bring in cultural and religious support. 

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The 32-year-old first came to New Zealand on a student visa. Source: 1 NEWS

It was at this time that Imam Muhammed Shaakir Ismail met him. 

Shaakir, a prominent member of the NZ Muslim Association, said there were encouraging signs at first.

“I found him to be relatively calm. He wasn't aggressive, he was not frustrated or angry,” he said.

“For me, that gave me an understanding that there may be room and opportunity for us to actually dig deeper.”

But by April this year, Shaakir said Samsudeen had deteriorated while in prison and was uneasy. 

He doesn’t blame anyone but the terrorist for what had happened. But, he believed there was a chance the September 3 terrorist attack in New Lynn could have been prevented. 

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Jones agreed. 

“If we had gone down the path of an intensive support programme involving the right services, then I think this could have been prevented,” he said. 

“It's tragic for all concerned, really.”