Thursday, 25 September 2014

In New Zealand, terror attacks could manifest - says ex-SIS officer

Australian police shot dead a terrorist suspect after he stabbed two police officers at police station in southeast Melbourne on Tuesday, authorities said.

The attack occurred in the parking lot of a police station in the town of Endeavour Hills when the man, identified as Abdul Naman Haider, slashed at officers with a knife.

The two officers, who work with the city’s counterterrorism task force, were hospitalised.

The shooting of the 18 year old has raised alarm of a growing terrorist threat in Australia and introduced fresh questions over whether New Zealand faces similar threats.

The Australian man had been identified three months prior with police subsequently learning of his new behaviour which were “causing them concern”.

Speaking from Hawaii on route to a UN meeting regarding the situation in Syria and Iraq, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the latest attack “indicates that there are people in our community who are capable of very extreme acts.”

A Massey University academic told the NBR ONLINE that while concern exists about terrorist attacks in New Zealand, security agencies are tracking threats from individuals with affiliations to militant groups.

Professor Rhys Ball of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies says a number of New Zealanders have indicated interest in travelling for fighting purposes to conflict zones including Syria and Iraq.

“If the then Director of Security Dr Warren Tucker was saying publicly in December 2013 that a “small number of New Zealanders are interested in travelling for the purposes of fighting, in trouble spots such as Somalia, Yemen and, more worryingly, Syria” and that this situation presents “new and very real risks” if they return home, then I suspect that such risks may have in fact manifested themselves in this country by now,” Dr Ball says.

“But we also need to remember that a security disruption operation, and a successful security disruption operation at that, could be as minimal as a ‘visit’ by the police or the removal of a New Zealand passport.”

Dr Ball, a ten-year veteran of New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS), says New Zealand’s security services will be working closely with other ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence partners to identify and share intelligence on potential threats returning from Middle East wars.

“Despite being one quarter the size of Australia, I don’t necessarily think that the potential security problem in New Zealand is one-fourth the size.

“But I would expect that if elements within the domestic community here are in contact with known extremists overseas or espousing similarly worrying views and language akin to what has transpired overseas recently, then the New Zealand agencies will be monitoring and disrupting plans or intentions as they present themselves,” he says.

A day before the latest attack in Australia, a senior member of the IS militant group released an audio message urging international followers to murder US allies including Australians.

“Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him,” Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, who is the official spokesman for IS, said on Monday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the threat from Mr al-Adnani was  “genuine”.

The militant's message follows the disruption of an alleged Sydney beheading plot in the nation's largest ever terror raids last Thursday.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) now say on their website that “At present, the potential for a terrorist attack in Australia is feasible and could well occur.”

The ASIO have placed the National Terrorism Public Alert System at the second highest of four notches at “high”.

Dr Ball indicates that the threat to New Zealand may be diminished in comparison to Australia.

“I think that the unique New Zealand approach to ‘community’ has real benefit in identifying what is happening overseas, acknowledging that it is happening, but also engaging with all elements of the New Zealand community, by way of relationships and partnerships, to ensure that what we see overseas doesn’t manifest itself here in any form – words or deeds.

“Let’s not create a problem that wasn’t there before, but by the same token we can still think about potential problems, and what they might look like and how we continue to prevent them from taking place here. 

“Our security and intelligence services have a part to play in this – absolutely - but more importantly, community engagement will be a far more effective and all-embracing strategy to counter possible acts of extreme violence,” Dr Ball says.

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