Paul Buchanan: Arrest raises serious questions about safety from terrorists

The Government maintains that it deported Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali because he constituted a threat to national security due to his past association with one of the 9/11 hijack pilots, Hani Hanjour. They also cite his activities while in the US. This gives reason for pause and several possible scenarios come to mind.

First, the New Zealand authorities were aware of who he was when he arrived, monitored him closely, ascertained that he was up to no good, and sent him packing.

A second scenario is that New Zealand had no clue as to his past when he it issued him a student visa. The authorities were only alerted to his presence after he arrived here - which is what the Immigration Minister claims to be the case. They then acted expeditiously to remove him.

Or, could he be an innocent man looking to upgrade his English language and flying skills to secure a commercial pilot's license for use back in the Middle East? In which case, his only crime is to have shared space with a terrorist more than five years ago.

If, as Immigration Minister Cunliffe maintains, the Government was not made aware of Mr Ali's presence until after he arrived, what does that say about our border security, passport controls and anti-terrorist intelligence collection?

Assuming the worst for the moment, that Mr Ali was here with bad intent and the Government was late in being alerted to that fact, the question can be asked as to why he chose New Zealand?

One answer might be the ready availability of civil aviation schools granting professional licenses under a relatively loose regulatory regime. The other might be the relatively easy granting of student visas by the New Zealand government, particularly in the field of English language instruction.

If Mr Ali is an innocent caught up in the machinations of international and domestic politics in the post 9/11 climate of fear cultivated by concerns about Islamic terrorism, it is unfortunate for him that his sojourn in Aotearoa ended abruptly without fair reason.

If New Zealand authorities had him on the radar screen all along and monitored his movements to determine his true intentions in order to spring a trap on him, then we can rest safe in the knowledge that our security agencies are on the job.

Paul G. Buchanan is the director of the working group on alternative security perspectives at the University of Auckland.

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