The mother of an Islamic State-inspired extremist who stabbed shoppers in a New Zealand supermarket said her son was radicalized by neighbors from Syria and Iraq who helped him recover from an injury.
The attacker, Ahamed Samsudeen, was a 32-year-old Tamil Muslim from Sri Lanka. He arrived in New Zealand 10 years ago on a student visa, and applied for refugee status on the basis of being persecuted in his home country.
Samsudeen was shot and killed by police, who said five people were stabbed and two injured in last week’s attack.
His mother, Mohamedismail Fareetha, said his descent into extremism began after he fell several stories in 2016 while attending university.
“Because he did not have anyone there, it was people from Syria and Iraq who helped him. It looks like they brainwashed him. Then he started posting on Facebook," Fareetha said in a phone interview Saturday with a local TV station from her home in eastern Sri Lanka.
“He changed only after going abroad,” she added.
Police first noticed Samsudeen’s online support for terrorism in 2016, and the following year he was arrested at Auckland Airport. He was headed for Syria, authorities say, presumably to join the Islamic State insurgency. He was later released on bail.
“After being arrested in 2017 he talked less with us, it was about once every three months,” Fareetha said, adding that two of her other sons “were angry with him and scolded him."
In a statement Saturday, Fareetha’s son Aroos said his brother “would hang up the phone on us when we told him to forget about all the issues he was obsessed with. Then he would call us back again himself when he realized he was wrong. Aathil was wrong again yesterday. Of course we feel very sad he could not be saved."
In 2018, Samsudeen was jailed for three years after he was found with Islamic State videos and knives, and the following year, his refugee status was canceled after authorities found evidence of fraud. Immigration authorities tried to argue he should remain behind bars, but in July, Samsudeen was set free.
Police trailed him around the clock, fearing he would launch an attack, but unable to do more. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said her government will change the laws this month to enhance penalties for terrorist plots.