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

In 2014, 60-year-old Jeremy Kerr threatened to contaminate baby formula using letters sent to Federated Farmers which contained the formula laced with 1080 poison. The toxin is routinely used as a pest control measure on government land, including land administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and its use continues to be controversial. Kerr demanded an end to the use of the toxin in New Zealand, or he would lace formula destined for sale in New Zealand and overseas. He was eventually identified and arrested, having not carried through with his threat – although it was estimated his actions had cost the country $37 million.38 Once again, the Suppression of Terrorism Act was not used, and charges of criminal blackmail were laid instead. Kerr had competing personal financial motives, but the 1080 debate continues to evoke threats of violence against DOC staff, vehicles and facilities. In 2017 threats were made by anti-1080 activists to bring down helicopters used by DOC and threats to kill staff and sabotage equipment continued to be made intermittently by anti-1080 activists throughout 2018.39

The emergence of the cyber environment as a display space for ISIS propaganda from 2013 onwards prompted security sector concern about New Zealanders engaging with that propaganda, either wanting to go to Iraq and Syria to join jihadist movements there, or remaining in New Zealand and being motivated to act locally. A few New Zealanders joined the ranks of the foreign fighters before legislation was implemented to prevent them doing so. Daryl Jones – Muslim bin John – a dual Australian New Zealand citizen was killed in a drone strike in Yemen in November 2013.40 Mark John Taylor, who knew Jones, left for Syria in 2014 and, a year later, posted a YouTube video calling on supporters to stab police or soldiers in New Zealand on ANZAC day.41

Those of concern to NZSIS in New Zealand had hovered around 30-40 individuals prior to March 2016 – they remain anonymous except for the few who have crossed the threshold to offend criminally.42 In 2016 two men appeared before New Zealand Courts, one for distributing violent propaganda, while the other walked into the US Consulate in Auckland and asked if the building was bombproof, repeatedly shouting “ISIS is here” when he was subsequently arrested.43 A youth was arrested in Christ- church in 2017 for actions inspired by on-line content, which were suppressed by the Court at his sentencing.44 In April 2018 a Dannevirke man was sentenced for possession of ISIS symbols and images, videos of graphic violence, a terrorist handbook as well as sexual images of children.45 All of these individuals have been prosecuted for offences under existing criminal legislation.46 Mark Taylor remains alive and in a Kurdish prison camp. His return to New Zealand seems unlikely, and if he did return – it is not clear whether he would face the judiciary. The Suppression of Terrorism Act could not be applied in New Zealand in 2007, it is difficult indeed, to see how it could be used against a New Zealander who was with a terrorist organisation on the other side of the globe today.