IS watchlist figure 'surprisingly high'

  • 05/11/2014

The number of people on the Government's radar for suspected ties to Islamic State (IS) has surprised not just the Muslim community, but security and intelligence experts.

Yesterday Prime Minister John Key said about 30 or 40 were already being monitored and a similar number required further investigation.

"That is a huge number… [we were] taken by surprise," vice-president of the Federation of Islamic Associations Javed Khan told Radio New Zealand.

"Our intelligence showed around five to eight people who may have got some connection with IS or terrorist organisations."

University of Otago international relations expert Professor Robert Patman says the figure is "surprisingly high".

"It certainly surprised representatives of the Islamic community in New Zealand, which is about 50,000-strong," he said on Firstline this morning. "It's got to be stressed that most of [them] are adamantly opposed to IS."

Mr Khan told Radio NZ the figure would "stigmatise" the vast majority of law-abiding Muslims.

"This may have a greater implication on the Muslim community because to somebody who is not part of the Muslim community, that person can look at any member of the Muslim community and say, 'Well this person may have some links to terrorism.'"

Dr Patman says the Government's proposed changes to surveillance laws, including observation of suspects for 48 hours without a warrant, may turn out to be an overreaction.

"Recently Mr Key increased the threat level from 'very low' to 'low', so it's still low, and clearly we have to give time for some of these measures to work.

"If they work, then we may not have to go to the next step of really increasing security in sort of an American style at our airports. But that can't be ruled out."

If the measures do work, Dr Patman believes most New Zealanders will be fine with the SIS and GCSB's expanded powers – as long as they're not abused.

"What's happened recently in Canada and also Australia, where you had IS-related incidents, has made a deep impression on the Government and they want to pre-empt that possibility here – and quite rightly so," he says.

"I think most people take the view the extended powers of the intelligence services and their increased funding is fine provided those extra resources are actually targeting terrorist suspects, as opposed to being used for more general surveillance."

If the proposed changes become law, they will have an expiry date. A full review of New Zealand's security agencies will be undertaken next year.

3 News

source: newshub archive