The Ghost of New Zealand’s Terrorism Past and Present

Author: Battersby, J. M.1

Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

Download full PDF version – The Ghost of New Zealand’s Terrorism Past and Present (384 kb)


The attack on two Christchurch Mosques in March 2019 was met with shock by New Zealanders and those from many other countries. There were clear assumptions expressed in the media, by commentators, politicians and even a few supposed ‘experts’ that this was a new experience for New Zealand. Overseas expertise was instantly sought to deal with a problem apparently not encountered before. This article addresses the assumption of the non-existence of terrorism in New Zealand by outlining its impact here over the past 50 years, and contends that local experience should be given strong consideration in approaching current and future terrorist threats. While the scale of the Christchurch attack was unprecedented, lone actors driven by extremist ideologies to engage in violence to send a political message to New Zealanders, is nothing new. New Zealand would not have been caught so unprepared if it had paid more attention to key events in the recent past, and taken steps to mitigate terrorist risks that could have been foreseen.

Keywords:  New Zealand, Terrorism, Left-Wing Extremism, Right-Wing Extremism, Christchurch, Suppression of Terrorism Act

On 15 March 2019, New Zealand experienced its first 21st century act of terrorism on its own soil in which lives were lost. A 23 year-old Australian male armed with semi-automatic weapons attacked two Christchurch mosques, one after the other. He killed 51 people and left several others injured. The attack caught New Zealand unawares, its suddenness Complemented by its severity – unprecedented in New Zealand history. Brenton Tarrant has become the first person to be charged with committing a terrorist act in New Zealand.  However, the Christchurch atrocity was not the first terrorist attack in New Zealand’s contemporary history, nor was Tarrant our first autonomous actor.

1 Dr John Battersby is a Teaching Fellow at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University, Wellington, and Managing Editor of National Security Journal. Email