Terrorism in New Zealand

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New Zealand has experienced few terrorist incidents in its short history and the threat is generally regarded as very low. However, the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) has warned against complacency.[1] This article serves as a list and compilation of past acts of terrorism, attempts of terrorism, and other such items pertaining to terrorist activities within New Zealand.


A common definition of terrorism is the "systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective."[2] However, unlike some other jurisdictions,[3] New Zealand has actually defined terrorism in an Act of Parliament.

The major piece of terrorist-related legislation in New Zealand is the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.[4] The Act was introduced by the Government to strengthen its counter-terrorism powers, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States.[5] The Terrorism Suppression Act defines terrorism, in New Zealand or elsewhere, as an act that "is carried out for the purpose of advancing an ideological, political, or religious cause"[4] and with the following intention:

  1. to induce terror in a civilian population; or
  2. to unduly compel or to force a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act.
And if it results in one or more of the following outcomes:[4]
  1. the death of, or other serious bodily injury to, one or more persons (other than a person carrying out the act):
  2. a serious risk to the health or safety of a population:
  3. destruction of, or serious damage to, property of great value or importance, or major economic loss, or major environmental damage, if likely to result in one or more outcomes specified in points 1, 2 and 4:
  4. serious interference with, or serious disruption to, an infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life:
  5. introduction or release of a disease-bearing organism, if likely to devastate the national economy of a country.

Alternatively, instead of the listed outcomes, "it occurs in a situation of armed conflict and is, at the time and in the place that it occurs, in accordance with rules of international law applicable to the conflict".[4]

Level of threat[edit]

The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) stated in its 2006 report that "the risk of a terrorist attack on New Zealand or New Zealand interests is low", but also warned against complacency.[1] It has stated that there are individuals in New Zealand linked to international terrorism, although the Green Party and others have dismissed these claims.[6] Once identified as a threat to New Zealand, Ahmed Zaoui became a citizen.[7] In another case, a man named Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali was deported from New Zealand after being linked to the hijacker of American Airlines Flight 77 which hit the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.[8]

In response to the Christchurch terrorist attacks of 15 March 2019, the country's threat level was temporarily raised from "low" to "high" and was later lowered to "medium" on 17 April 2019.[9]

New Zealand threat level scale[10]
Threat level Description
Negligible Terrorist attack, or violent criminal behaviour, or violent protest activity is assessed as very unlikely.
Very Low Terrorist attack, etc. is assessed as unlikely.
Low Terrorist attack, etc. is assessed as possible, but is not expected.
Medium Terrorist attack, etc. is assessed as feasible and could well occur.
High Terrorist attack, etc. is assessed as likely.
Extreme Terrorist attack, etc. is expected imminently.

List of notable incidents[edit]

Most attacks, or attempted acts, of terrorism in New Zealand have been bombings as a form of protest.[11]

Huntly rail bridge bombing[edit]

On 30 April 1951, during an industrial dispute, a rail bridge was blown up near Huntly, Waikato. The train drivers were warned in advance and the bombing severely disrupted coal supplies. Sidney Holland, the Prime Minister of the time, called it an "infamous act of terrorism".[12] Academic Lance Beath writes that the bombing might not be considered a "terrorist" incident because there was no intent to kill or injure people and the only objective was blocking supplies.[13]

Vietnam War protests[edit]

In 1969–70 there were multiple bombings and attempted bombings of military bases and other sites related to the New Zealand military. The bombings were in protest against New Zealand's involvement in the Vietnam War.[11] On one occasion, in 1969, four students who were protesting against the war attempted to blow up the flagpole at Waitangi treaty grounds,[11] the site of Waitangi Day celebrations.

Wanganui Computer Centre bombing[edit]

On 18 November 1982, a suicide bomb attack was made against a facility housing the main computer system of the New Zealand Police, Courts, Ministry of Transport and other law enforcement agencies, in Wanganui. The attacker, a "punk rock" anarchist named Neil Roberts, was the only person killed, and the computer system was undamaged.[14][15]

Wellington Trades Hall bombing[edit]

Wellington Trades Hall

On 29 March 1984, a suitcase bomb was left in the foyer of the Trades Hall in Wellington.[16] The Trades Hall was the headquarters of a number of trade unions and it is most commonly assumed that unions were the target of the bombing.[11] Ernie Abbott, the building's caretaker, was killed when he attempted to move the suitcase, which is believed to have contained three sticks of gelignite triggered by a mercury switch. To this day, the perpetrator has never been identified.[17] It was revealed in a 2019 episode of Cold Case that police had a prime suspect, a retired marine engineer with explosives expertise and anti-union attitudes; however the evidence was considered circumstantial and insufficient to lay charges.[18]

Rainbow Warrior bombing[edit]

On 10 July 1985, the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior was sunk by the French foreign intelligence service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE). Greenpeace had planned to use the Rainbow Warrior as part of protest efforts over French nuclear testing at Moruroa, and DGSE divers sank the vessel by detonating mines against its hull while it was berthed in Auckland. The crew left the ship, but one person, Fernando Pereira, was drowned when he returned to a cabin to retrieve his cameras, just before the vessel sank.[19]

France initially denied responsibility for the attack, but later admitted its role.[19] Two of the French agents involved in the attack were arrested, convicted, and jailed, while several others escaped. French defence minister Charles Hernu eventually resigned over the affair.[19] Prime Minister David Lange later referred to the sinking as "a sordid act of international state-backed terrorism."[20][21]

Christchurch mosque shootings[edit]

Women leaving flowers for mosque shooting victims

On 15 March 2019, Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch were attacked by a gunman. The shootings killed 51 people and injured 49 others,[22][23] making this the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand history.[24] Two improvised explosive devices were found attached to a car and were subsequently disabled.[25][26][27] Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian man, was arrested and charged with murder and engaging in a terrorist act.[28] Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the shootings as a terrorist attack.[29]


The principal government agencies responsible for countering the threat of terrorism are the New Zealand Police (who have responsibility for direct action) and the SIS (who have responsibility for providing information on which action can be based). The counter-terrorism capabilities of the Police have been expanded in response to the 11 September attacks in the United States,[30] and counter-terrorism also takes up a significant proportion of the SIS's budget.[1] One observer has argued that New Zealand "already had in place a very comprehensive set of counter-measures" before that point.[31]

2007 anti-terror raids[edit]

Seventeen people were arrested in co-ordinated raids on 15 October 2007 by Police Armed Offenders Squads and Special Tactics Group. Those arrested included environmental activists and Māori separatists, including noted activist Tame Iti, but the raids also included roadblocks in the Urewera area by armed police who searched and questioned everyone who passed through.[32][33]

After lengthy legal proceedings, none of those arrested were convicted of anything more serious than violation of gun license rules under the Arms Act. Although the search warrants used indicated that terrorism related offences were involved, no charges were laid under the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act—with the Solicitor-General describing the legislation as "complex and incoherent".[34] Major amendments to the Act were being pushed through Parliament at the time of the raids, as well as legislation creating the charge of "participation in an organised criminal group", justified as necessary to address gang violence, a charge which was unsuccessfully applied to four of those arrested.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Report to the House of Representatives for the year ended 30 June 2006" (PDF). Annual Report NZSIS. New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. 2006. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  2. ^ Jenkins, John Philip (4 August 2015). "Terrorism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  3. ^ Schmid, Alex P. (2011). "The definition of terrorism". In Schmid, Alex P. (ed.). The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis. p. 39. ISBN 9781136810404. Retrieved 3 May 2019. 'There is', in the words of Britain's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile of Berrew, 'no single definition of terrorism that commands full international approval'. [...] There are hundreds of definitions of terrorism in use [...].
  4. ^ a b c d "Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 No 34 (as at 04 April 2016), Public Act". legislation.govt.nz. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  5. ^ Beath, Lance. "Terrorism and counter-terrorism – Government responses to terrorism". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 7 February 2017. Following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the US, New Zealand's Parliament passed the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
  6. ^ "Kiwis should be sceptical Re: SIS terrorism claims". scoop.co.nz. 21 December 2004. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  7. ^ Vance, Andrea (22 May 2014). "Ahmed Zaoui a New Zealand citizen". Stuff. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  8. ^ "New Zealand deports friend of hijacker – Asia – Pacific – International Herald Tribune". The New York Times. 12 June 2006. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  9. ^ Henry Cooke and Stacey Kirk (15 March 2019). "New Zealand officially on high terror alert, in wake of Christchurch terror attacks". Stuff.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  10. ^ "Counter-terrorism". Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (New Zealand). Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d Beath, Lance (20 June 2012). "Terrorism and counter-terrorism". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  12. ^ New Zealand History online – Division and defeat – 1951 waterfront dispute
  13. ^ Beath, Lance (20 June 2012). "The historical background". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  14. ^ "1982: The death of Neil Roberts".
  15. ^ "Neil Roberts 20th Anniversary Memorial Punk Fest".
  16. ^ Talia Shadwell (27 March 2014). "Wellington's unsolved Trades Hall mystery". The Dominion Post.
  17. ^ "Trades Hall bombing remains unsolved, 24 years on". Stuff.co.nz. 31 January 2009. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  18. ^ Thomas Manch, Trades Hall bombing evidence points to a key suspect, retired marine engineer Edgar Kidman, stuff.co.nz, 16 July 2019
  19. ^ a b c Rowell, Andrew (1996). Green Backlash: Global Subversion of the Environmental Movement. Psychology Press. pp. 232–234. ISBN 9780415128278. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  20. ^ Armstrong, John (2 July 2005). "Reality behind the Rainbow Warrior outrage". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  21. ^ King, Michael (1986). Death of the Rainbow Warrior. Penguin Books. p. 202.
  22. ^ "Police with the latest information on the mosque shootings". Radio New Zealand. 17 March 2019. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  23. ^ "Police With the Latest Information on the Mosque Shootings". RNZ National. 17 March 2019. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
  24. ^ "Christchurch mosque shootings: New Zealand's worst since 1943". The New Zealand Herald. 15 March 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  25. ^ "As it happened: 49 killed, 48 injured in Christchurch terror attack". NewsHub. 16 March 2019. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  26. ^ "Four in custody over Christchurch mosque shootings as police boss reveals explosive devices found on cars". TVNZ One News. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  27. ^ "Christchurch mosque shooting kills 49, gun laws will change PM says". Stuff. 16 March 2019. Archived from the original on 15 March 2019. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  28. ^ "Man accused of Christchurch mosque shootings pleads not guilty to 51 murder charges". Stuff.co.nz. 14 June 2019. Retrieved 8 August 2019.
  29. ^ "'There Will Be Changes' to Gun Laws, New Zealand Prime Minister Says". The New York Times. 17 March 2019. Archived from the original on 17 March 2019. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  30. ^ "Counterterrorism". New Zealand Police. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  31. ^ "Before September: A History of Counter-terrorism in New Zealand", B.K. Greener-Barcham, 2002
  32. ^ Rowan, Juliet (16 October 2007). "Valley locked down after dawn raids". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 16 October 2007.
  33. ^ "Anger mounts at police terror op". Stuff.co.nz. 19 October 2007. Archived from the original on 21 October 2007.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)()
  34. ^ "Terror legislation too complex – Collins". Stuff.co.nz. 9 November 2007.
  35. ^ "...Within hours of Solicitor-General David Collins announcing his decision on charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, Parliament was debating a bill that will strengthen it...", 8 November 2007, stuff.co.nz