Christchurch terror attack: NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge insists Muslims not spied on, Royal Commission report suggests otherwise

In the years leading up to the Christchurch terror attack, police and intelligence agencies were dismissive of the Muslim community which tried to warn them about the rise of Islamophobia and the far-right. 

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terror arrack has found our spies had an "inappropriate" focus on Islamic extremism and "there was a systemic failure to recognise [the] threat of extreme right-wing domestic terrorism". 

The report doesn't blame the agencies - or their single-minded focus - for failing to prevent the attack. But wholesale legal changes are being made to our terror laws. 

And to our top spy has apologised to the Muslim community. She says they are not being spied on despite the report suggesting otherwise. 

On March 15, 2019, Wasseim Sati was shot outside Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch. A victim of terror, just two weeks ago he was made to feel like a terrorist. 

"I've been questioned if I'm terrorist or not by the police," he told Newshub. "I had visit by the police and they asked me 'Wasseim are you a terrorist, are you belong to ISIS?' I was very surprised, I was very shocked; it took me a couple days, I was really angry and really upset by the question."

He's not alone. Our spies have been too focused on Islamist extremism with not enough focus on far-right and white supremacy, the Royal Commission has found. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern elaborated in Parliament about the findings, pointing out that the report found "disproportionate scrutiny by security and intelligence agencies" and that it "confirms there was inappropriate concentration of resources". 

For years leading up to the terror attack, the Muslim community in New Zealand warned the Government they were being targeted. 

"They were not taken as seriously as they should have been. We were raising issues constantly," says Anjum Rahman, spokesperson for the NZ Islamic Women's Council.

NZSIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge.
NZSIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

The Royal Commission also heard from the community. The report details "widespread racism, discrimination and Islamophobia exists" in New Zealand, people "felt uncomfortable reporting incidents" to police, and when they were reported "they felt their concerns were often not taken seriously or followed up".

"Even now, we are still being engaged with like we are the threat," the commission was told. 

When asked if there is a degree of Islamophobia within our enforcement and intelligence agencies, the Prime Minister told Newshub: "We can only lean on what the report itself finds and the report does not draw that conclusion."

Try telling that to Sati. 

"That's where the Islamophobia happens," he told Newshub. 

The apology doesn't cut it.

"Is apology enough? I lost all my friends... I've got no friends left. [Will] the apology get them back? [Will] apology put me back in a place to be able to work full-time?"

Some in the Muslim community who had dealings with the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) were left feeling under suspicion, and NZSIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge attempted to reassure them. 

"This caused real anxiety and led to the belief that the Muslim community was being monitored which was not and is not the case," she said after the report's release. 

It was a bizarre claim given the report details New Zealand's terrorist watch-list before and after March 15. Following a review after the attack far-right extremism makes an appearance, but before the attack all the terror investigations only targeted Islamist extremism. 

"The idea we have ever or would ever monitor the Muslim community as a whole... that has never been the case, it never will be the case," Kitteridge said. 

The Prime Minister shut down further questions on it. Her spy boss had zero interest answering either, refusing an interview to answer further questions. 

That's what the new era of transparency and accountability looks like.

The report found there was no clear leadership or coordination on counterterrorism, so a new national intelligence and security agency will be established to sit above our two operational spy agencies, the NZSIS and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

Terrorism laws will be strengthened - that's already underway. The spies probably need more resources. They also controversially want to be able to mine data. 

One thing that won't change: no one will lose their job over this. The Prime Minister says the issues don't relate to individuals. But there are of course individuals at the heads of these organisations.