The Government is taking an Islamic State threat against a New Zealander seriously, and says police protection will be provided if required.
An Auckland man was named on a “hit list” released by IS following a major hack of US military information.
IS bragged for hours on social media about the dump of information relating to more than 1400 people, including the man, and accompanied it with a terrifying call-to-arms for homegrown terrorists to attack them.
Prime Minister John Key said he was not taking the threat lightly, noting a New Zealander was named on the list.
“We have a responsibility to that person, his family, and actually to fellow New Zealanders to get to the bottom of it, and we’re working our way through that. I wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions today until I have much better information.”
The man’s father said he had no idea why his son was on the hit list.
His son had nothing to do with the military and was not living in New Zealand, he said. The man declined to discuss his son’s occupation or where he was living overseas.
“It’s totally inaccurate, a real mish-mash of information.”
The man said he had “no idea” what his next move would be.
“We’ve only just found out about it, it’s still sinking in really.”
Chris Finlayson, Minister responsible for the Security Intelligence Service, said he was trying to verify the list, calling IS “specialists in lying and deceiving and creating intimidation”.
There were a range of protections the man and his family could be offered, but Finlayson would not outline the nature of possible protective measures for security reasons.
If any protection was needed, it would be put in place by Police, Finlayson said.
Police said they were aware of the list and were making enquiries and liasing with the relevant agencies.
They had been in contact with the family of the man named and were “providing appropriate support and advice” to them.
Police could find no reason why the man’s name was on the list, they said.
A statement from the family issued through Police said they were “at a loss” as to why their son was on the list, and said he had no connection with the military or any security service.
Finlayson questioned whether the information released by IS had been hacked, or whether it was open-sourced.
“I just don’t know – these guys are pathological liars and deceivers, that is their trade, and so we need to find out a little bit more before I can start being too definitive.”
Key said there was a need to know how IS got the information.
“Again these people are the masters of propaganda. Maybe they hacked it but there are some media reports now that that is not how they got the information. I simply don’t know and that is something my officials are working on.”
CALL FOR ‘LONE WOLF’ ATTACKS
Auckland-based terrorism expert Paul Buchanan said the main point of the list was to provoke lone wolf attackers into action.
“They don’t care if they are involved in the fight against Daish (Islamic State). They just want to sow fear and intimidate governments.”
“The call is explicit for lone wolf attacks,” Buchanan said.
A Twitter account purporting to be run by the Islamic State Hacking Division asked IS “lone wolves” to contact them and said specific “targets” would then be provided according to their location.
The account followed with a message to not let the “hard work” of the group go in vain, and asked again for lone wolves to contact them privately.
Twitter has suspended earlier accounts from the self-titled group, and the account appears to be the fourth created since the “hit-list” was released.
A single attack and one person hurt or killed would “shake the political system” if it was claimed the reason was the deployment to Iraq.
“One attack in New Zealand I would pretty much bet would change the whole dynamic about or deployment of troops to Iraq,” he believed.
“It is not an existential threat to any liberal democracy, but the general public don’t know that.”
“You get a lot of bang for your buck, if you will. People would clamour for a reconsideration saying ‘we don’t have a dog in that fight, we went in on behalf of the Americans’.”
Finlayson said “lone wolf” attacks were always a concern – that someone would be radicalised by IS publications and decide to “do their own thing”.
“That’s always been a concern that we’ve had, certainly it’s one I’ve been very aware of since I became the Minister responsible for the SIS towards the end of last year.”
Buchanan would not discount the impact of such threats. But there was no evidence anyone on this list or the earlier one had been hit.
Buchanan described the list, and the earlier one published in March listing US defence personnel, as “random and spurious” and an exercise in just “grabbing names” of clerks and others with non-combat roles and at bases with no combat role.
He noted the New Zealander mentioned was not a high-profile critic of IS or “virulently anti-Muslim”.
‘WE HAVE YOUR NAMES’
Most of those listed by IS were said to be American military personnel, but British Foreign Office and council workers were also mentioned alongside Australian defence personnel, public servants and a Victorian MP.
Australia’s most senior IS militant, former Melbourne man and terror recruiter Neil Prakash, first posted links to the information on social media early on Wednesday.
A message from the Islamic State Hacking Division, which accompanied the spreadsheet of personal details, warned: “know that we are in your emails and computer systems, watching and recording your every move.
“We have your names and addresses, we are in your … social media accounts.
“We are extracting confidential data and passing on your personal information to the soldiers of the khilafah [caliphate], who soon with the permission of Allah will strike at your necks in your own lands!”
Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash.
Most of the passwords listed related to the personal email accounts or devices of those who were hacked, rather than work accounts.
Some of the information was outdated, but it is possible to locate somebody’s position using only their mobile phone number.