Terror charges loom for accused

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Police have moved a step closer to bringing terrorism charges against 17 people rounded up in police raids.

In an unprecedented move, police have referred evidence to Solicitor-General David Collins for consideration under the Terrorism Suppression Act, after a year-long investigation into alleged weapons-training camps.

A decision on whether terrorism charges will be laid is expected within two weeks.

Though police would not comment, lawyers for the 17 people arrested two weeks ago in Auckland, the Bay of Plenty, Palmerston North, Whakatane, Ruatoki and Wellington condemned the move.

Their voices of protest were joined by activists around the country.

"It is very scary," said lawyer Moana Jackson, acting for alleged ringleader Tame Iti.

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"Not just for the people detained but for all New Zealanders, who should be concerned that this is the thin end of the wedge."

The 17 accused - including Iti, his nephew Rawiri Iti, Jamie Lockett, Omar Hamed, Rongomai Bailey and former Wellington student Marama Mayrick - at present face firearms charges, including possession of military-style weapons.

Mayrick, who used to visit a community house in Wellington that was entered by police in the October 15 raids, was granted bail in Rotorua District Court yesterday.

The other 11 accused still have name suppression.

Police said at the time of the arrests that they could pursue charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Mr Collins must now review the evidence and decide whether it warrants the laying of terrorism charges. "There is a lot of material to go through," a spokeswoman for the solicitor-general's office said.

The act carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for crimes such as a terrorist bombing, or 14 years in jail with a $250,000 fine for financing terrorist activity.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday that she had not been briefed on the case since a week before the raids took place.

Mr Jackson was angry that he was alerted to the development by the media.

"It's a breach of process that the police have done it this way," he said.

Michael Bott, acting for one of the Wellington-based accused, said he had not been able to talk to his client about the developments. "It's not far removed from Guantanamo Bay."

Under the Terrorism Suppression Act, the attorney-general is supposed to approve any charges being laid. However, Michael Cullen has delegated that to Mr Collins. Veteran activist John Minto called this move "gutless".

Auckland University law expert Scott Optican said police were following the process as defined by the act.

"What they are doing now they have to do. They really have no choice."

The Dominion Post