New Zealand supermarket attacker Ahamed Samsudeen was released from jail despite fears

Armed police stand outside a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand after a man stabbed and injured six shoppers Credit: AP/Press Association Images

A man who walked into an Auckland supermarket on Friday and stabbed five people with a kitchen knife he took from the shelves was under police surveillance and was known to have been inspired by the Islamic State group.

Now named in court documents as Ahamed Samsudeen, for 53 days from July police had tracked his every move, an operation that involved some 30 officers working around the clock.

He had previously served three years after being caught in possession of a hunting knife and having watched extremist videos, but New Zealand authorities said they could do nothing more to keep him behind bars.Two more shoppers were injured in the attack on Friday.

Three of the victims remain hospitalised in critical condition and three more are in a stable or moderate condition. A seventh person is recovering at home.

The youngest victim was a 29-year-old woman, the oldest a 77-year-old man.

Police forensic staff examining the scene Credit: Brett Phibbs/AP

The officers following Samsudeen were able to intervene and shoot him dead within 60 seconds of him beginning his assault.

Court documents begin to tell the story of why Samsudeen was able to roam free, despite the authorities fearing him so much.

However, much of the his legal history remains subject to court orders preventing publication.

More pieces of the puzzle likely reside within that hidden legal history, including shortcomings in New Zealand terrorism laws, which experts believe are too focused on punishing crimes and inadequate in dealing with plots.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed to toughen anti-terror laws following the attack. She also said she is seeking to make the Samsudeen’s full legal history publicly available as soon as possible.

Ms Ardern said Samsudeen, a Sri Lankan national, first moved to New Zealand in 2011 and that security agencies began monitoring him in 2016.

'What happened today was despicable, it was hateful, it was wrong,' says New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

According to a sentencing report from July, Samsudeen spent three years in prison for unspecified reasons.

This year, a jury found him guilty on two counts of possessing objectionable videos, both of which showed Islamic State group imagery, including the group’s flag and a man in a black balaclava holding a semi-automatic weapon.

High Court judge Sally Fitzgerald described the contents as nasheeds, or religious hymns, sung in Arabic. She said the videos described obtaining martyrdom on the battlefield by being killed for Allah’s cause.

The judge said she rejected arguments Samsudeen had simply stumbled on the videos and was trying to improve his Arabic. She said an aggravating factor was that he was on bail for earlier, similar offences and had tried to delete his internet browser history.

However, the videos did not show violent murders like some Islamic State videos and were not classified as the worst kind of illicit material.

The judge noted the extreme concerns of police, saying she did not know if they were right, but “I sincerely hope they are not”.

Police inspect a vehicle outside the supermarket Credit: Brett Phibbs/AP

In the end, Ms Fitzgerald sentenced Samsudeen to a year’s supervision at an Auckland mosque, where a leader had confirmed his willingness to help and support the man on his release.

The judge also banned Samsudeen from owning any devices that could access the internet, unless approved in writing by a probation officer, and ordered that he provide access to any social media accounts he held.

The judge concluded: “I am of the view that the risk of you reoffending in a similar way to the charges upon which you were convicted remains high. Your rehabilitation is accordingly key.”

Two months later, Samsudeen travelled from the mosque to the Countdown supermarket in the suburb of Glen Eden, tailed at a distance by police special tactics officers. Then he unleashed an attack that shocked a nation.