Catholic reaction to Auckland terrorist attack

Lynnmall web

New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have condemned a terrorist attack that took place in an Auckland supermarket on September 3, in which seven people were injured. A knife-wielding militant was shot dead by police.

The bishops issued a short statement on September 4 about the attack on innocent people in the Countdown LynnMall supermarket in west Auckland.

“To those who have been injured, we hold you in our prayers and pray for your recovery. We are deeply saddened, and our hearts go out to you, your whanau (family), and the wider affected communities,” the bishops wrote.

The terrorist, Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, a 32-year-old Sri Lankan national and a supporter of Islamic State, was shot dead by members of the Special Tactics Group of the New Zealand Police in the supermarket.

Seven people were injured and six were admitted to hospitals. Two were in a critical, but stable, condition in Auckland Hospital on September 5, and one other was in a critical but improving condition. The others had been discharged from hospital by September 6. Authorities are not looking for anyone else in connection with the attack.

The bishops wrote that, “We are conscious that perpetrators of such terror attacks always seek to divide communities as much as to inflict direct violence on individuals. We know that the actions of this one extremist are his crimes alone.”

“The Catholic community of Aotearoa New Zealand stands with people of all faiths and alongside people who profess no faith, as a people united against violence in every form.”

In a media conference hours after the attack, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labelled the incident a “terrorist attack” undertaken by a “violent extremist”.

“What happened today was despicable, it was hateful, it was wrong,” she added. “It was carried out by an individual — not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity, but an individual person who is gripped by ideology that is not supported here by anyone or any community. He alone carries the responsibility for these acts; let that be where the judgment falls.”

The supermarket is in the Avondale parish and parish priest Pa Peter Tipene told NZ Catholic that “the reality of terrorism impacted upon our sacred land on March 15, 2019 (in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch in which 51 people were killed and dozens injured). Then, as now, we recognised that this was the action of someone whose ideology was deranged. It has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity.”

Pa Tipene grew up in Avondale, and the LynnMall shopping centre has “always been a local landmark and gathering place for retail, catering and entertainment. The fact the attack occurred in our own back yard shows we are not immune to such deplorable acts happening so close to home”.

On September 3, Pa Tipene heard the police Eagle helicopter overhead, and observed a fleet of ambulances and other emergency vehicles with sirens blaring and lights flashing racing past his presbytery.

“So I knew something was up and prayed a short karakia (prayer), for whatever was going on! Once I learned of the terrorist attack, I was shocked and was also deeply saddened and concerned for those hurt. My initial reaction was concern for any parishioners, whanau or friends who may have been caught up in the situation.”

He said that, while he knew of one parishioner employed by the supermarket, he was not aware of any others and, as of September 5, had not heard or received any information that any parishioners were involved or injured.

Pa Tipene said that parishioners’ social media posts and messages he had seen or received highlighted their shock and horror at the “atrocious incident and their care and concern for all involved”.

“I think that, for some within the community, this incident, coupled with our present (Covid-19-related) lockdown, may cause even greater anxiety and fear about being out and about in public. This is totally understandable, however we should not allow a terrorist’s depravity to cripple or reduce our lives. Rather we need to remember that, as a Christian people, we are called to have hope. Hope in the Lord and hope in each other.

“It is heartening to see on various social media how the community has responded with gratitude and compassion for the Countdown staff and police and emergency personnel involved. All essential workers, often at the frontline, are deserving of our grateful respect and of our prayers.

“St Mary’s parish, Avondale, joins the rest of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the world in praying for all those injured or affected by this tragedy. We stand together as a nation praying for kotahitanga, aroha, rangimarie – for unity, love and peace.”

Reacting to discussion of Samsudeen’s history as a refugee, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand director Julianne Hickey said that everyone in New Zealand has a migration story about how they or their family or ancestors arrived in the country, and the nation has had a long history of welcoming refugees and migrants. “Migration has made our country the diverse and culturally rich place it is today”. But “one person, who claimed to be a refugee, has tried to undermine that by a brutal attack in our community, inspired by an ideology of hate”.

“By the far the majority of New Zealanders, including recent refugees and migrants, reject that, and instead will continue to aspire to creating communities of aroha/love and manaakitanga/welcome,” Mrs Hickey said.

Samsudeen came to New Zealand in 2011 and claimed refugee status, which was initially declined by Immigration New Zealand, but was granted on appeal in 2013.

He came to police attention in 2016 because of his online activity and, after attempting to leave for Syria in 2017, when he was stopped at Auckland International Airport, a series of police charges, court appearances and times in custody followed.

It became apparent that Samsudeen has been radicalised online, buying into an ISIS-inspired ideology, and he was found to have possession of material indicating this. His social media posts were being monitored by New Zealand authorities.

Immigration New Zealand reportedly wanted to deport him in 2017, and cancelled his refugee status in 2019, after it was found he had used falsified documents earlier in the refugee assessment process, but he appealed a deportation notice. But progress could not be made on this while another criminal hearing process involving Samsudeen was taking place. Questions are being raised as to what options previous Immigration ministers could have taken in deporting Samsudeen.

Last year, a judge found that Samsudeen could not be charged with plotting an attack under New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to accelerate progress in tightening the country’s counter-terrorism laws.

Released on bail in July, 2021, Samsudeen had been under close police surveillance. But social distancing requirements under Auckland’s current Covid-19 lockdown conditions meant those tracking Samsudeen had to be at a distance when he went to the supermarket.

Samsudeen’s family issued a statement that described his actions as a “horrible act” and expressed support for victims. The family referenced his deteriorating mental health, his being subject to “political torture” in Sri Lanka and his obsessive nature. New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation subsequently stated that mental health issues did not excuse the terrorist’s behaviour.

The Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, one of two mosques in that city at which 51 people were killed in a terrorist attack in 2019, condemned the attack, and set up a Give-A-Little page for victims. As of September 5, it had raised more than NZ$20,000.

Photo: LynnMall shopping centre. Megan Harvey (Wikimedia Commons)


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Michael Otto

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