As New Zealand's election campaign entered its final days, Australians absorbed news that 800 police had swooped on suspected jihadist sympathisers in Sydney and Queensland to foil an atrocity. They were acting on intelligence that an Isis (Islamic State) leader had ordered a killing. One of the 15 people police detained, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari, has been charged with planning to select a random person for a gruesome publicised execution such as Isis has been carrying out on Western captives in the Middle East.
The prosecutor said the plan was to shock and horrify the Australian community. If true, doubtless it was also to dissuade them from backing the Abbott Government's dispatch of Australian forces to join the United States action against Isis in Iraq. If that was the intention it was misjudged. There had been criticism within Australia of their Government's intervention in Iraq before the terrorist plot was foiled, and the criticism has continued since. But nothing would have hardened public opinion more certainly than a ritual murder on Australian soil.
The impact would have been felt in New Zealand too, bringing home the latest threat from the Middle East in a way last week's raids have not. At the climax of the election we took only passing notice, despite the issue of surveillance by our own external intelligence agency that had been under debate earlier in the week. The Government, too, may now have some catching up to do on the question of joining an international response to Isis.
About 30 countries have pledged to help President Barack Obama "degrade and destroy" the group, if that is possible without a serious commitment of boots on the ground. Not all of those countries, though, have acted as quickly as Australia, which has already sent special forces to its airbase in the United Arab Emirates. Even the British Government, which has seen one of its nationals executed on camera and heard the hooded executioner's English accent, has been slower to decide how it will contribute.
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The beheading of Western journalists and aid volunteers is clearly designed to provoke a military response, which is a good reason to be wary of responding. The accent of the executioner has told us more than the barbarism of the latest butchers who claim to act in Islam's name. Disaffected young Muslims from Western countries are said be joining them. The Australian Government estimates it has 100 Isis supporters inside its country. Dozens of them are thought to be in Iraq or Syria fighting with Isis or another al-Qaeda derivative, Jabhat al-Nusra.
Many have returned, presumably battle-hardened and trained in bomb-making. But as Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been advised, "To mount the kind of attacks [Isis] has in mind for Australia, all you need is a determined individual, a knife, an iPhone and a victim."
The raids may be timely for Mr Abbott as he sends 400 air force personnel and combat aircraft to the Middle East, as well as special forces, and legislates for stronger anti-terrorist precautions at home.
But Australians agree with him. His polled support has risen for almost the first time since he took office.
What should New Zealand do? Does this country have malcontents who would embrace even ascetic religious fundamentalism for the sake of a cause? Have any been with Isis and returned? Should this country, too, offer special forces to assist Iraqi troops on the ground? That depends on whether the new Iraqi Government is better than the last, and whether US air support alone might be effective, as it was in protecting Kurdistan. The decision must not be influenced by the possibility of terrorism at home. As Australia has shown, good intelligence can keep us safe.