Terror laws created to block Kiwis leaving to fight for Islamic State have resulted in eight people having New Zealand passports torn up.

The Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Act, passed in December 2014, amended three existing laws to bolster New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) surveillance capacity and to give the Minister of Internal Affairs greater powers to suspend and cancel passports.

Data released to the Herald under the Official Information Act shows eight New Zealand citizens have had passports cancelled, withdrawn, or applications refused. Terror and security expert Paul Buchanan was surprised by the total, which he described as a "significant number".

"If all eight of those people had their travel documents removed, refused, etc, because it was suspected or known that they were going to fight for Daesh [Islamic State], that's a lot of extra sympathisers for a country of this size, and that's scary," Buchanan said.

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The drastic measures were taken based on information from the SIS that the individuals concerned were a "national security threat".

Over 2015 and 2016, three people had passport applications refused under the terror laws. A further four in the same period had passports cancelled. The eighth person had their passport scrapped last year.

One of the cases involves a Melbourne-based New Zealand woman who had her passport cancelled in May 2016 on national security grounds.

However, the legislation - which is also designed to protect New Zealand from domestic terror attacks - is not understood to have affected New Zealanders who have gone to Syria or Iraq to join the fight against Isis.

Kiwi law graduate Ashlee Boniface, who travelled to Syria and joined YPJ, an all-female Kurdish armed unit fighting Isis, in a civilian role, told the Herald she had not received travel restrictions from New Zealand authorities.

"I didn't do anything illegal from an [sic] NZ perspective," she said.

Kiwi law graduate Ashlee Boniface, who travelled to Syria and joined YPJ, an all-female Kurdish armed unit, says she had not received travel restrictions from New Zealand authorities. Photo / Supplied
Kiwi law graduate Ashlee Boniface, who travelled to Syria and joined YPJ, an all-female Kurdish armed unit, says she had not received travel restrictions from New Zealand authorities. Photo / Supplied

In 2015, the SIS confirmed a number of New Zealand women were heading to Iraq and Syria. It wasn't clear whether the so-called "jihadi brides" had gone to fight or to support Isis fighters, but then Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne said none of their passports had been cancelled. Dunne said a very small number of men's passports had been cancelled, but would not reveal the number.

"... Any passports that have been cancelled have been cancelled because people pose a threat to national security or ... are going to engage in terrorist activities. Marriage doesn't usually come into that category."

Data from the Department of Internal Affairs shows there was no action taken this year under rules further bolstered in April last year by the Intelligence and Security Act 2017. The fact no passports have been cancelled over the last 18 months coincides with a series of calamitous defeats for Isis in Iraq and Syria.

An NZSIS spokesman said New Zealand has obligations to prevent Kiwis from committing a terrorist act or travelling overseas to join a terrorist organisation.

"The NZSIS has a longstanding practice of not commenting on individual cases or the intelligence that informs our assessments and advice."

However, Buchanan suspects not all eight individuals were going to fight for Isis.

He knows of a Syrian family living in New Zealand who alerted authorities to their son returning home to fight against Isis.

"He was not a jihadi, he hated [President] Assad but he hated Daesh even more. So one of those cancellations could well be that kid.

Global studies have found no evidence of a heightened risk of former fighters coming home and committing terrorism, said Buchanan.

"If you want to go join a cause overseas as a New Zealand citizen, then quite frankly I think you should have the right to do it."

Professor Richard Jackson, director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago labelled the Government's actions as "security theatre" and cited numerous injustices globally where innocent citizens have been victimised by the "extreme precautionism" of security services.

"They think, 'Even if there's a 1 per cent chance this person might possibly go and do something, if we're not seen to be doing something then we'll be in trouble, so we may as well cancel their passport as a precaution'," he said.

Jackson said the lack of prosecutions stemming from any of the cancelled passport cases, showed officials had made "determinations on probabilities of future actions" and resulting in "punishment without a crime".

NOTORIOUS FIVE

• Kiwi jihadist Mark Taylor, also known as Mohammad Daniel and Abu Abdul Rahman, burnt his New Zealand passport after going to Syria to fight for Isis. In 2014, Taylor, declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US, claimed he'd contacted the New Zealand government to try and get a new passport.

Kiwi jihadist Mark Taylor is also known as Mohammad Daniel and Abu Abdul Rahman.
Kiwi jihadist Mark Taylor is also known as Mohammad Daniel and Abu Abdul Rahman.

• A Christchurch teen radicalised online and caught plotting a terror attack was sentenced to intensive supervision earlier this year. The youth, who had planned to drive a car into a group of people and then stab them, is currently being monitored by GPS and living in supervised accommodation.

• In June 2016, Imran Patel became the first New Zealander jailed for possessing and distributing extremist propaganda. Last week, the Herald reported that Patel will be released on parole as he is no longer deemed a risk to public safety.

• Hawkes Bay Muslim Te Amorangi Izhaq Kireka-Whaanga came out in 2014 in support of Isis, saying it would bring down Western civilisation.

• New Zealander Daryl Jones, also known as Muslim bin John, was killed by a drone in Yemen in 2013 while fighting for Al-Qaeda.