Ex-militant's home searched in Auckland

BY MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 30/09/2009

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The home of an Auckland man who claims to have trained as an Islamic terrorist has been searched by police.

Charles Wardle, 26, says he was once asked to be a suicide bomber by Hezbollah in Lebanon and he warns that militants are training in New Zealand.

The Auckland Metro Crime Squad raided Mr Wardle's home last month seeking information "relating to `jihad' and religious radicalism".

Mr Wardle said he converted to Islam in 2001 aged 18 after a "troubled time", having become anti-American following the first Gulf war.

He claimed to have lived and trained with the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2001 and the Iraqi-based Ansar Al Islam in 2003.

He said he was detained by police while in Ajman, part of the United Arab Emirates, where he was to receive explosives training, then deported to New Zealand.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman David Courtney confirmed its overseas consular division dealt with Mr Wardle but would not give details, citing privacy concerns.

Detective Inspector Stu Allsopp-Smith confirmed police had searched Mr Wardle's home but would not comment on the investigation or say how common terrorist group-related searches were.

Mr Wardle was asked to be a suicide bomber by Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2002, he said, but declined because "even when I was a radical I didn't believe in killing civilians".

He was no longer a threat, having abandoned Islam, he said. He was now an atheist, studying science and arts at Auckland University. Though turning one's back on Islam is considered punishable by death by extreme followers, he had suffered no reprisals.

New Zealanders needed to be aware "that there is a concern with Islamic militancy" here, he said.

"I've met people who are training themselves with the intention of doing jihad in the future."

But Islamic Federation of New Zealand president Anwar Ghani dismissed the claims. He was not aware of anyone with militant connections in New Zealand.

"It's a reasonably open community and, because we are very well interconnected, if there were those types of element we would know internally."

A Victoria University counter-terrorism expert, associate professor Jim Veitch, backed Mr Wardle's claim.

He believed there were terrorist cells here and others such as Mr Wardle who trained as militants, then returned to New Zealand.

New Zealand was seen as benign and a good place for terrorists-in-waiting to live until called up for overseas action. "New Zealand authorities know about a lot of these people and so far there's no need to be too alarmed by it all," he said.

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Mr Wardle said there was no threat of militants carrying out terrorist action here because Muslims felt welcome in New Zealand.

But authorities needed to take the issue seriously.

"Someone having sent me to get explosives training and then sending me back to New Zealand, regardless of whether I had the intention to use that training in New Zealand or not, that's still a threat, that's something that needs to be taken seriously."

NZ First leader Winston Peters caused controversy in 2005 when he claimed there was a "militant underbelly" among New Zealand Muslims.

In 2000, Yossef Bodansky, director of the United States Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, said a small number of terrorist networks, including one linked to Osama bin Laden, were operating in New Zealand.

New Zealand was used as a staging post for terrorism because of its liberal society and "relaxed security environment", he said.

Police national headquarters spokesman Jon Neilson would not say if police were aware of terrorist cells operating here. Various groups monitored security and shared information with the Security Intelligence Service and overseas organisations, he said.

- The Dominion Post

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