Call for care in handling case of men facing first home-grown radicalisation charges

Dr Paul Buchanan, strategic analyst and director of 36th Parallel, believes locking people up can lead to radicalisation.

Dr Paul Buchanan, strategic analyst and director of 36th Parallel, believes locking people up can lead to radicalisation.

As two men face New Zealand's first charges linked to home-grown radicalised Islamism, there are warnings from experts that mishandling the case risks worsening the danger.

Niroshan Nawarajan, 27, pleaded guilty to watching radical Islamic videos of beheading and violence described as including "extreme cruelty and violence" by prosecutors.

Police found him in possession of a laptop containing offensive video files entitled "Flames of War" and "Massacre of the Shias," according to court documents. 

A second man, 26-year-old Imran Patel, also pleaded guilty to charges of breaching the Films, Videos and Publications Classifications Act by making objectionable publications, two charges of distributing that material, and one charge of possession of objectionable material.

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He was charged with owning and distributing 31 clips, including 13 which featured people being beheaded, shot, blown up, set on fire and having limbs amputated as well as graphic war footage.

Both men have been held in custody since being arrested in November last year and January. They will be sentenced in June.

Experts say the active curation and distribution of such material is often the starting point of radicalisation.

It has raised questions by security experts about how to deal with what could be the first hints of home grown New Zealand radicalisation.

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Professor Richard Jackson, deputy director of the National Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, said overseas evidence suggested that a heavy-handed response to expressions of anti-Western sentiment or young people exploring radical ideas could be detrimental.

"There is evidence that that does contribute to further radicalisation. It creates the sense that Muslims are unfairly targeted, because there have been cases where right-wing extremists, or Christian extremists, don't get that same type of treatment, they're treated much more leniently.

"There's also a sense that if you're a Muslim, you're not allowed to be vocally critical of Western foreign policy whereas a sort of white person can easily do that without falling under suspicion."

Jackson said: "We live in a post 9/11 world where the authorities have taken the view that it's better to be safe than sorry so even when people make jokes or out of anger make statements that in context we wouldn't take seriously, because they think there might be a one per cent risk they sort of clamp down on them."

Security expert Dr Paul Buchanan agreed locking up the two men in prison could be detrimental.

"There is fairly strong evidence throughout Europe, North America and to some extent here that people do, if not get radicalised in jail, certainly get more hardened. Whatever criminal propensity they have, a lot of people come back a lot more hardened than before and rehabilitation stories are few and far between."

However, authorities had to also protect the public and took threats like this seriously.

Jackson also warned it was important media took great care in reporting the case responsibly, as it could cause xenophobia and also add to radicalisation as Muslim fears that the West hated them seemed to be confirmed.

"It is a bit worrying, because to be honest the media has not been that responsible in reporting on these types of issues...and [it] contributes to that broader social anxiety.

"There is a strong well-spring of public opinion out there that Muslims, as a group of people, are inherently dangerous and this will confirm that and lead to more calls to restrict immigration and perhaps expel people from the country."

New Zealand Muslim Association president Ikhlaq Kashkari called for unity in the wake of the guilty pleas.

"We are calling fo fellow New Zealanders to stand alongside us in unity and in peace.

"New Zealanders who break our laws must face the consequences of our actions.

"All of us - whether we are family members, friends, journalists or politicians - must do whatever we can to ensure hatred is not allowed to thrive here in New Zealand. It is up to all of us."

Kashkari declined to comment further on details of the case while they were still before the courts.

Patel has previously appeared been arrested in 2014 for allegedly threatening members of the Avondale mosque in a dispute between two Islamic factions battling for control of the mosque.

Patel and the imam he supported, Abu Abdulla, were barred from entering the mosque by the New Zealand Muslim Association which ran the mosque.

One of those involved in the disputes was named in a United States Embassy warning in 2005 as a person being monitored by the police for potential terrorist allegiances.

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