Norway-style NZ terror attack unlikely - expert

A murderous attack by a right wing extremist such as the one in Norway at the weekend could happen in New Zealand, although it is unlikely, a psychology professor says.

Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in Saturday's attacks on Norway's government headquarters in Oslo and on an island retreat for young people, which killed at least 93 people, has said he was motivated by a desire to bring about a revolution in Norwegian society.

A manifesto he published online raged against Muslim immigration to Europe and vowed revenge on "indigenous Europeans'', whom he accused of betraying their heritage.

Victoria University associate professor of psychology Marc Wilson said, like Norway, New Zealand had a reputation for being relatively peaceful.

"One of the reasons the Norway event is so powerful is that they are also a fairly egalitarian society,'' Dr Wilson told NZPA.

The two countries were both relatively secular and had similar population sizes, so it might be expected that they had similar proportions of the population that might adopt these kinds of extremist positions.

However, there were also some important differences, including that extreme right wing politics in New Zealand was not as high-profile as in Norway and other parts of Europe.

"In New Zealand we have a more homogeneous political environment - between them, National and Labour shared about 80 percent of the vote in 2008. In Norway, 84 percent of the vote was split five ways,'' Dr Wilson said.

National Front-type parties have historically not done well in New Zealand.

"In short, we're not really a hotbed of extremism.''

"While we may have pockets of extremist thought, the fact that we are an island in our own right might mean that there is less scope for our brands of extremist to meet up with fellows from neighbouring countries.

"It may also be that our political climate means that people generally feel that they have legitimate ways to influence the flow of events without recourse to violence,'' he said.

Other important differences could be found in the diversity of immigrants and religions. While a larger proportion of New Zealand's population were immigrants, most had similar cultural backgrounds to New Zealanders.

"That's not to say that right-wing politics doesn't dwell on immigration but the focus is on immigrants from China more than Islamic states.

"As a result, while Asian immigrants might be a political target, they're less of a religious one and it is often the combination of political and religious fundamentalism that appears in these kinds of atrocities - even if we have one, we don't have the other,'' he said.

In New Zealand, Muslims made up a smaller proportion of the immigrant population than in Norway, where Muslims were the second-largest religious group.

On top of that, New Zealanders still enjoyed a solid standard of living and the country's closest trading partners were also doing well.

"This meant there is less need to look for scapegoats for our problems, and even if we did it's not likely it would be Muslims,'' Dr Wilson said.

New Zealand Police told NZPA they didn't want to take part in speculation about the likelihood of a terror attack here but said they were prepared for a variety of scenarios.

"We also have regular exercises in conjunction with other agencies to ensure that all agencies are prepared.

"Intelligence gathering is a fundamental element at all levels of policing to help identify possible threats,'' a police spokesperson said.

- NZPA

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