Guardian News and Media/ Auckland
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said that a legal loophole which allowed an Islamic State-inspired terrorist to remain free will be closed off with new legislation by the end of September.
The country had tried for years to deport Ahamed Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen, a 32-year-old Sri Lankan man who was shot dead by police following Friday’s attack at a supermarket in Auckland.
Seven people were hurt in the attack, five of them with stab wounds.
Three of those injured were in a critical condition in hospital on Saturday.
Samsudeen was fighting to keep his refugee status in New Zealand when he carried out the attack, which Ardern said was inspired by the Islamic State.
Officials had tried to detain Samsudeen in jail until his asylum case was resolved but there were no legal grounds for doing so.
Instead, 30 officers watched him around the clock for more than 50 days before he grabbed a knife from a supermarket shelf and attacked shoppers, metres away from the undercover police surveilling him.
The attack provoked fresh debate about a proposed law change currently before parliament that would make the act of planning a terrorist attack a crime – a legal gap identified after the Christchurch shooting.
The government has vowed to fast-track this reform in the wake of Friday’s attack.
“We are still working to have that legislation passed before the end of the month,” Ardern said at a news conference.“The really helpful thing is it has already gone through substantial public consultation so people have already had their say and we haven’t needed to rush that process.
“Now what we will do is go through that procedural process in parliament a little quickly.”
Samsudeen had fraudulently secured refugee status, Ardern said, and his status as a “protected person” barred his deportation to Sri Lanka.
Ardern said the government had tried to keep Samsudeen out of the community, including looking at whether he could be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, due to his history of mental illness.
“I was later advised that prevention orders could not be used and that he had refused psychological assessment,” Ardern said.
Speaking to RNZ, counter-terrorism expert Paul Buchanan questioned why the act had not been used to detain the man.
But the chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Shaun Robinson, said the act was there to help people get well, not to be used as stopgap to fill holes in the criminal law.
Statements that the act should have been used in this case equate violent activity and extremist beliefs or action with mental illness, Robinson said.
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