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

British and Australian diplomatic missions threatening an attack on public utilities during the Americas Cup regatta in Auckland.32 In 2006 a Saudi national on a Yemeni passport, Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali was arrested in Palmerston North, having been identified as previously associated with the 9/11 attackers while living in the US. Ali had been undertaking flying training at the Manawatu Aero Club, which almost certainly contributed to the decision to quickly deport him.33 Two years later a Muslim woman from New Zealand arrived in Yemen to become the third wife of Anwar al Awlaki, who had by this time, become a fervent on-line radicaliser connected to multiple terrorist plots.34 Awlaki was killed in a drone strike in 2011.

In February 2008 a Somali refugee boarded a regional flight from Blenheim to Christ- church; after the flight had taken off she threatened the pilots with a knife also claiming to have a bomb on board. In the course of the flight she stated that she wanted to fly to Australia, or crash into the sea and told passengers they were going to die. While the flight was not diverted, she remained armed and threatening until it landed when she was eventually overpowered by the crew. While there was no political motive, and mental health was clearly a factor, her actions exposed the risk associated with the lack of any security screening on regional flights to small locations within New Zealand.35 In 2019 these regional flights are still without passenger security screening, and the potential for them to be used to move drugs or other illicit contraband, or to be targeted by terrorist actors, appears not to be realised.

In the immediate post-9/11 period, New Zealand finally enacted terrorist-specific legislation with the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002. This development was to ensure compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and not a response to any domestic circumstance in New Zealand. The reluctance with which this was done is evident in the Act’s convoluted definition of terrorism, its poor conception and practical impotence.

In 2007 a two year investigation resulted in several search warrants citing the Suppression of Terrorism Act, being executed against activists using the Urewera Forest to train with firearms and Molotov cocktails. The activists were associated with various causes, although appear to have been led by the prominent Maori activist Tame Iti – who had attempted to travel to Fiji to support the 2000 coup. The Police affidavit leaked to the media after the arrests (and then leaked again via wikileaks) highlighted recurring camps attended by individuals who ‘trained’ with a range of firearms, including semi-automatic weapons, many of which were acquired via TradeMe. The affidavit also cited electronic intercepts of conversations discussing the assassination of public figures and generalised references to a race war.36 However, the Solicitor General subsequently ruled out any charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act describing it as “incoherent and unworkable” and unable to be applied to the circumstances observed by police.37