Terrorist attack 'possible, not expected'

PRIME MINISTER: John Key.
PRIME MINISTER: John Key.

Prime Minister John Key is upping the ante on New Zealand's terror threat - hinting at a domestic beheading attack but stopping short of confirming the risk.

For the first time, the Government has made public the threat level, saying it was recently raised from "very low" to "low".

This means a terrorist attack, violent criminal behaviour or protests are now "possible but not expected".

By contrast, on the same scale, Australia's threat is "high".

The move comes as National prepares to tighten terror laws, under the guise of stopping home-grown terrorists leaving to fight with Islamic State [Isis] militants in Iraq.

Key said the number of these Kiwis was "modest" in comparison with other countries.

He raised a potential beheading attack over the weekend but was vague when pressed yesterday.

"I am not going to go into what threats might or might not be there.

"What I can say is that you have seen a number of, generally academics, over the course of the last 24 to 48 hours who have essentially made the comments that a domestic threat of that nature is either not going to happen, or will not happen, or it's out of context.

"What I would say, with the greatest respect to those individuals, they don't see the same information I see."

He added: "If anyone believes that there is absolutely no risk of a form of domestic terrorism here then they are actually deluded."

Officials had raised the terror threat in response to a rapidly changing international environment, he said.

There was an increased risk Isis would attempt to radicalise Kiwis.

Key said he would give some details about the number of foreign fighters in a speech to Parliament next month.

A four-week review by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was signed off in the first Cabinet meeting of the new parliamentary term yesterday.

It will look at restricting travel, boosting surveillance powers and creating new criminal offences.

The Government will push for cross-party support for the law changes, which it expects to pass under urgency before Christmas.

It is unlikely Parliament's intelligence and security committee will be established in time, but the reforms will go before the foreign affairs select committee.

They may also be subject to a sunset clause, which would expire in the wake of a mandatory review of the intelligence services next year.

New SIS and GCSB minister Chris Finlayson said the 13-year-old Terrorism Suppression Act, which makes participating in Isis activity illegal, was inadequate.

"It is difficult to prove someone is a fighter. There are also issues about the collation of evidence and evidence that would be admissible in a court of law according to the standard that we currently have."

Interim Labour leader David Parker wrote to Key yesterday to ask for a briefing. He backed the idea of a sunset clause.

However, Green MP Jan Logie accused Key of "misleading" the public.

"We need hard evidence, not baseless assertions. So far the prime minister hasn't produced a shred of evidence to back his claims for an urgent law change," she said.

The backdrop to the law changes will be New Zealand's role in an anti-Isis coalition of more than 60 countries.

Key has said sending an SAS deployment is unlikely, but airlift assistance may be an option.

THREAT LEVEL: DEFINITIONS

 

Negligible: Terrorist attack or violent criminal behaviour or violent protest activity assessed as very unlikely.

Very low: Terrorist attack or violent criminal behaviour or violent protest activity seen as unlikely.

Low: Terrorist attack or violent criminal behaviour or violent protest activity assessed as possible but is not expected.

Medium: Terrorist attack or violent criminal behaviour or violent protest activity assessed as feasible and could well occur.

High: Terrorist attack or violent criminal behaviour or violent protest activity assessed as likely.

Extreme: Terrorist attack or violent criminal behaviour or violent protest activity expected imminently.

Stuff