The Ghost of New Zealand’s Terrorism Past and Present

Author: Battersby, J. M.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

property to convey a political message to domestic and international audiences. How close did they come to the threshold of terrorism? Whatever the answer, New Zealand’s well embedded tradition of inconsistency in dealing with political violence was accentuated by the difference in the outcomes of the two cases and undermines recent media claims of a security sector ‘blindness’ to Right-Wing Extremist offending.

In the meantime other countries began experiencing the outward flow of ‘foreign fighters’ to join post-Cold War conflicts in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, many inspired by the gruesome fate of Muslim minorities. As Al Qaeda emerged, small numbers from many countries gravitated to its training camps. There is no publicly available evidence to suggest that New Zealanders did so, and after the 9/11 attacks New Zealand did not experience the terrorist plots – prompted or inspired by Al Qaeda – that many of its traditional allies did. Unlike other international stimuli for terrorism in the past, Al Qaeda’s message did not resonate in New Zealand.

But international events caused planned extremist action nevertheless. Writing in Jane’s Intelligence Review Paul Smith alluded to one such instance in 2000 just prior to the Sydney Olympic Games:

“As part of an investigation into alleged human smuggling operations, police in Auckland raided an apartment, which was later described as a ‘virtual command centre’ for possible terrorist attacks in nearby Australia. Police discovered detailed maps and other evidence suggesting that the group intended to attack a small nuclear facility located in Sydney. Some members of the group had apparently acquired New Zealand pass- ports, which could then be used for easy entry into numerous countries, including Australia. Police speculated that the New Zealand passports were preferred because they tend not to arouse suspicion.29” 

Smith does not name who comprised the group, but French Muslim convert Willie Brigitte was arrested in 2003 for planning an attack of Sydney’s Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.30 Brigitte had links to Faheem Lodhi who was convicted in 2006 for planning to attack Sydney’s electricity grid. Both men possibly spent time in New Zealand to al- lay suspicion of their intent – not the first time that an Australian/New Zealand link has existed as forerunner to attempted terrorism in either country. New Zealand as a hiding place either before or after terrorist events elsewhere is another theme emerging from the 1970s and recurring in Christchurch in 2019 – Tarrant’s manifesto claims he initially intended to lay low in New Zealand, to prepare for his attack presumably in Australia.

In the meantime, home-grown threats continued to emerge intermittently in New Zealand. A series of cyanide-laced letters were sent containing threats to attack US golfer Tiger Woods during his 2002 visit to New Zealand, prompting a significant increase to the security around him.31  The following year letters were sent to US,