Terrorism in New Zealand

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Terrorism in New Zealand is relatively uncommon, although a small number of cases exist.

Level of threat[edit]

The Security Intelligence Service 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 some have dismissed these claims.[2] One of the best known individuals accused (controversially) of being a threat to New Zealand is Ahmed Zaoui. 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 September 11, 2001.

Acts of terrorism[edit]

There is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism but in New Zealand it is defined by the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Rail bridge bombing[edit]

On April 30, during the 1951 New Zealand waterfront dispute a rail bridge was blown up near Huntly. 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".[3]

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.[4][5]

Wellington Trades Hall bombing[edit]

On 27 March 1984, a suitcase bomb was left in the foyer of the Trades Hall in Wellington.[6] The Trades Hall was the headquarters of a number of trade unions, and it is most commonly assumed that they were the target of the bombing, although other theories have been put forward. 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.[7] To this day, the perpetrator has never been identified. Those elements of the New Zealand Police responsible for preventing and investigating such crimes were headquartered in the building across the street.

Rainbow Warrior bombing[edit]

Perhaps the best known attack in New Zealand was the sinking of the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior by the French foreign intelligence service, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), in 1985. 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 the vessel to retrieve his cameras, just before it sank.

France initially denied responsibility for the attacks, but later admitted its role. 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.

2007 anti-terror raids[edit]

Seventeen people were arrested in co-ordinated raids on October 15, 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.[8][9]

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 offense were involved, no charges were even laid under the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act - with the Solicitor-General describing the legislation as "complex and incoherent".[10] Major amendments to the Act were being pushed 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. [11]


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 September 11 attacks in the United States,[12] 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.[13]

See also[edit]