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Kiwi jihadis an unlikely threat - expert

3News NZ
Friday, December 06, 2013

Kiwis fighting in Syria probably don't pose a risk to New Zealand's national security, despite warnings from director of the Security Intelligence Service Warren Tucker, it has been claimed.

Mr Tucker says Kiwis in Syria, Yemen and Somalia pose "new and very real risks to our domestic security environment" should they come home, but security analyst Paul Buchanan says it depends which side they're fighting on.

"The people who have gone to Syria – and we're talking a handful of people, a very, very small number of people – don't appear to be from an organised group. They didn't go in a bloc and join one of the jihadi groups," he said on Firstline this morning.

"And if they're fighting for the [Free Syrian Army], or one of its affiliated organisations, these are relatively moderate Sunni groups. They're backed by the West. They have no grievance with New Zealand."

But the Syrian conflict isn't a simple fight between two sides – there are myriad groups battling one another, many of them uninterested in bringing democracy to the region. Dr Buchanan says if any Kiwis have joined any of these groups, the SIS will be keeping a close eye on them.

"They are very bad news, and should they attempt to come back here, I still think that they can be controlled – they can be monitored," he says. "We know the SIS spends a lot of time monitoring the Muslim community in New Zealand, and so even if these people are dangerous and attempt to return, I have a feeling the SIS is on top of the situation."

Prime Minister John Key says he knows the names of some of them, which indicates they were monitored on the way out of New Zealand, as they wouldn't be using their real names in the warzone.

But why would the SIS make this information public? Dr Buchanan suggests it could be a PR move ahead of potentially damaging leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"Right now the intelligence agencies in New Zealand are under a lot of public scrutiny and there is a lot of negative feeling towards them – probably for the first time in their history, and they're not used to that… If you put out the fact that the SIS is working hard to prevent bad people from coming back and doing harm to New Zealanders, it may divert some attention from the inevitable bad news that's about to come out of Snowden's leaks."

Dr Buchanan notes the activities of New Zealand's security agencies have largely escaped exposure in documents released by Snowden thus far, but with a deal on the highly controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership edging closer, that might not be the case for much longer.

"I have a feeling that what's about to come out – because I think it's inevitable that it will come out – may damage our relations with countries that otherwise would be very friendly towards us."

Dr Buchanan says in warning of the dangers posed by potential Kiwi terrorists, Mr Tucker was just doing his job.


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