Protecting national security and responding to ISIL

  • John Key
Prime Minister National Security and Intelligence

Prime Minister John Key has announced the Government’s response to threats against New Zealand’s national security posed by growing international terrorism.

“I have a responsibility as Prime Minister to protect New Zealanders at home and abroad and I take that responsibility very seriously,” says Mr Key.

“New Zealand's risk and threat profile is changing and while I do not wish to overstate the risk, I do think we need to acknowledge the facts.

“Last month I announced a review of security settings around foreign fighters and today I have outlined the urgent changes needed to address the evolving threat environment.”

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses a threat not just internationally, but regionally and locally, says Mr Key.

ISIL is thought to have as many as 3,000 foreign fighters in its ranks holding Western passports from a range of countries.

“We’re extremely concerned about New Zealanders being attracted to this brutal regime – as in other Western countries, ISIL has been successful in recruiting New Zealanders to its cause,” says Mr Key.

“Government agencies have a watch list of between 30 and 40 people of concern in the foreign fighter context. These are people in, or from New Zealand who are in various ways participating in extremist behaviour.”

Some of the watch list group have travelled to Syria to engage in fighting and remain there. Others are ISIL supporters who have tried to travel but been prevented by the cancellation of their passports.

The remaining people on the watch list are involved in funding terrorism, radicalising others or are becoming radicalised themselves. Another 30 to 40 individuals require further investigation in addition to the watch list group.

To respond to the evolving foreign terrorist fighter issue Cabinet has approved limited, narrowly focused legislative changes which would allow:

  • The Minister of Internal Affairs to cancel passports for up to three years
  • The Minister of Internal Affairs to temporarily suspend passports for up to 10 working days in urgent cases
  • The NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) to carry out video surveillance on private properties for the purpose of observing activities of security concern, modelled on the Police’s powers in the Search and Surveillance Act
  • The NZSIS to conduct emergency surveillance for up to 48 hours prior to the issue of a warrant, with the approval of its Director and subject to the oversight of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

In addition to this the Government has committed a funding injection of almost $7 million to the NZSIS to increase the number of staff able to work on investigations.

The review also assessed whether a new criminal offence could be created to deal with the foreign fighters issue. The conclusion officials reached was that this should be dealt with on a longer time frame than the urgent review allowed.

“These responsible and narrow changes will strengthen our national security settings and provide greater protections to New Zealanders. They’ll be subject to a sunset clause and I trust political parties will recognise the need for these changes.”

Alongside these changes, the Government continues to consider New Zealand’s potential contribution to the international coalition against ISIL.

There are four areas that will form New Zealand’s likely contribution - humanitarian, diplomatic, intelligence, and capacity-building including any military contribution.

“We will not shy away from doing our share as a good international citizen, while maintaining New Zealand’s independent foreign policy,” says Mr Key.

“Today I’m ruling out sending SAS or any troops into combat roles in Iraq, though our military can and may well help with building capacity and capability of Iraqi forces.”

Cabinet has asked for further advice on an option to train local forces in Iraq, such training work would be carried out behind the wire by regular forces.

We are talking to our longstanding partner Australia about what they are doing to help train the Iraqi forces and how we might help. Military planners will travel to the Middle East to assess a training option and provide further information to Cabinet.

The Government will take a careful and considered approach to the rising threat ISIL presents locally, regionally and internationally.