New Zealand Maori charged with planning terror attacks

By Ray Lilley
Wellington, New Zealand (AP) 11-07

New Zealand police monitored armed Maori activists and others talking of political assassinations and bombings of power plants before arresting 16 people on suspicion of planning terror attacks, two newspapers reported during November.

Among targets discussed for assassination were main opposition National Party leader John Key and U.S. President George W. Bush, while an al-Qaida manual on terrorist actions was among “about 10” that group members claimed to be using, the reports said.

The suspects, arrested Oct. 15 on weapons charges following raids on alleged military-style training camps, included six Maori independence activists and others who have been described as political activists and extreme environmentalists.
Daily newspapers in the capital, Wellington, and in the southern city of Christchurch published details recently from a 156-page police affidavit used to gain warrants to arrest the people involved.

The police surveillance found that the suspects were discussing the use of “sudden” and “brutal” attacks with the aim of dividing “Aotearoa” – the Maori name for New Zealand – and that the suspects noted that people would suspect other, known terror groups in the attacks.

"They’ll think it’s al-Qaida," one suspect is quoted as saying in the affidavit, according The Dominion Post newspaper.

The conversations suggested the suspects would target Key, the party leader, because they felt he would become the country’s next prime minister. It was not immediately clear why they would target Bush.

The U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Wellington, Janine Burns, said she could not comment on the case because it was before the courts, adding that “as a matter of policy we don’t comment on security matters.”

Maori activists have protested the arrests, saying police were heavy-handed in raids on Maori neighborhoods on Oct. 15 and 16 – the same time the camps were raided.

Some 1,000 indigenous Maori demonstrated against the arrests near Parliament in Wellington on Wednesday, causing major traffic disruptions.

While police originally arrested the suspects under both weapons and anti-terror laws, New Zealand’s top legal official, Solicitor General David Collins, ruled out using the country’s anti-terror law passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. Collins said the law was incoherent and too complex to apply in this case.

However, the reports in newspapers – based on secret police evidence amassed from 18 months of surveillance on the camps and the suspects – suggested terrorism was on their minds.

Weapons charges against the 16 still apply, and they have all been released on police bail to await trial on strict conditions that include surrendering passports.

The documents in the newspapers were not presented in open court, and civil libertarians criticized the leak of the affidavit and publication of its details.

Tony Ellis, chairman of the Council for Civil Liberties, said the information’s release could prejudice fair trials for the suspects.

Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope said police would investigate whether the publication of details breached court suppression orders or potentially compromised criminal proceedings.

The Dominion Post said in a front-page editorial that it did not take likely the decision to publish the details. “We believe we are acting within the law, we also believe we are acting in the public interest,” it said.

The protest in Wellington was led by Tuhoe tribe members, who said they were traumatized by the actions of armed police during the October arrests.

“Nobody has the right to come into our homes,” one speaker told the crowd. “The police had to raid our land, they had to hold guns to our babies’ heads. We have been oppressed for years.”

Downtown traffic was thrown into confusion when the protesters, many of them wearing masks concealing their faces and waving Maori sovereignty flags, marched down a main street and chanted accusations of abuse by police.

Police cleared a path for the marchers back to Parliament. The protest ended peacefully.