NZ military personnel headed for Iraq

Last updated 18:08 05/11/2014
ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff.co.nz

Up to 40 people are being monitored by government agencies as possible foreign fighters because of their engagement in ''extremist'' behaviour, Prime Minister John Key says.

John Key
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
Prime Minister John Key.

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Kiwi military personnel are on their way to Iraq as New Zealand swings in behind the fight against the Islamic State group.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee confirmed three unarmed military personnel left for Iraq this week to assess how New Zealand could help the fight against the Islamic State group. Former foreign minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters said the country was now "at war".

Up to 10 military planners would be sent to the Middle East and New Zealand would continue talks with Australia about how it could contribute, Brownlee said.

New Zealand's involvement could be scaled up to a role similar to that taken in Afghanistan if the Iraqi security forces request it.

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The announcement came as Prime Minister John Key delivered a groundbreaking speech outlining what he says are the threats to New Zealand's national security.

'POSSIBLE FOREIGN FIGHTERS' WATCHED

Key revealed government agencies are monitoring up to 40 possible foreign fighters because of their engagement in ''extremist'' behaviour.

''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,'' Key said.

Some of the list had travelled to Syria to fight beside Islamic State - IS, also known as Isil and Isis, Key said.

''Others are Isil supporters who have tried to travel but been prevented by the cancellation of their passports.''

The remainder of the list, Key said, were ''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''.

Key also confirmed that the Internal Affairs Minister will be granted the power to cancel passports for up to three years or suspend them for 10 days in urgent cases.

NEW ZEALAND 'AT WAR'

Brownlee said the New Zealand team in Iraq would spend time gathering information at allied bases in the region and would report back to the Government.

The team had skills in military operations, communications, logistics, training and military law.

He said it was frustrating that some commentators had speculated about the nature of New Zealand's involvement.

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"We're being very, very concerned about this because obviously the threat is somewhat domestic as well," Brownlee said.

It could be as late as the new year before there was a definitive position about the nature of New Zealand's contribution, he said.

NZ First leader and former foreign minister Winston Peters said New Zealand was now "at war" after committing military planners to Iraq.

"We are engaged in war now. That's the perception that ISIS will have and any reasonable person in the Middle East will have the same view," Peters said today.

The move amounted to "boots on the ground" and that was the way IS would see it, he said.

It had always been his view that it would open New Zealand to more threats here.

Peters said he supported a proper decision by Parliament and no decision had been made.

So far all he had seen was obfuscation and misrepresentation.

Key had told him in the House yesterday there was no Cabinet decision.

"That was demonstrably false. Our briefing before that event had told us there was a Cabinet decision already made."

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said he had some reservations about Key's plans.

Any move that allowed another situation like the police raids on Tuhoe people would be opposed, he said.

He also rejected sending any troops to the front line in Iraq.

"We have concerns about training as well because we have seen already [with] some of the exercises that ... people involved actually turn around and end up fighting back against those people who have been helping them.."So he had some practical concerns.

CALL FOR GREATER SECURITY

Alarmed airline pilots called for urgent action to increase airport security and provide greater vigilance of airline passengers, some of whom could have links to Islamic State.

“Security screening should be introduced immediately for all passengers travelling in New Zealand, not just those flying on jet aircraft as is currently the case," New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association technical director Captain Rob Torenvlied said.

That would include passengers flying on regional turboprop services. Now only passengers flying on aircraft with 90 seats or more were security screened before boarding aircraft.

Staff working airside - the part of the airport used for the surface movement of aircraft - should be screened before being allowed to proceed airside. Workers affected would include ground handling staff, baggage loaders and cleaners.

"This would close another large security risk to the travelling public," Torenvlied said.

"With recent news that one Islamic threat could be based in Hawke’s Bay there is real concern that stricter controls need to be implemented without further delay.”

A lack of adequate screening processes on most provincial flying routes was highlighted in Blenheim when a  woman tried to overpower pilots controlling a plane before she was apprehended, he said.

“The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association is convinced that now more than ever we have to be extra vigilant about the types of passengers flying on our planes and the potential links they may have to Isis, Torenvlied said.

“None of us are immune to the workings of this group and to be prepared and take proper precautions is paramount to ensure the safety of passengers and pilots."

NON-MILITARY EFFORTS

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand would increase its humanitarian support for Iraqi and Syrian refugees and ramp up diplomatic efforts to address the rise of the Islamic State.

McCully announced today a further $1 million in aid on top of $13.5 million already pledged to address the plight of the millions of people who had fled their homes following the violence in Syria and Iraq.

"Unrest and violence cause by Isil is making the already pressing humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq far worse."

The scale of the crisis and brutality of the Islamic State had long-term implications for the region, McCully said. 

New Zealand's aid and diplomatic effort would also concentrate on helping to contain the spread of the Islamic State's "vicious ideology". 

Efforts at the United Nations Security Council would be focused on addressing the long-standing issues in the Middle East that were a source of radicalisation for some individuals and threats to regional stability.

- Tracy Watkins, Vernon Small, Hamish Rutherford, Aimee Gulliver, Michael Daly and Blake Crayton-Brown

- Stuff

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