Foreign fighters returning to New Zealand from the Middle East as Islamic State crumbles is a “risk”, says John Key.
The threat was among issues raised in talks between Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Auckland with her counterpart Murray McCully and the Prime Minister at the weekend.
Bishop said Australia had stepped up its support for police and the intelligence and security agencies in response to the threat.
“As Isis comes under increasing pressure in Syria and Iraq and particularly as a result of the Mosul offensive there is an even greater risk that more foreign fighters will seek to leave and some will try to return to their home countries,” Bishop said.
Key said from Townsville, where he is stopping over on his way to India due to a faulty plane, that the number of potential fighters that could return to New Zealand is “considerably smaller than Australia’s issue”.
“Whether you’ll ultimately see a return of foreign fighters we don’t know, it’s always a risk because they are legally entitled to return to New Zealand but we’ve made changes to our legislation…to give us greater powers if those people do return,” he said.
“Realistically all we can do is prepare as best we can, monitor them and see where they return to.”
Bishop said there are about 110 Australians currently fighting in or engaged with a terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq and she expects some of them will seek to return.
“So monitoring and disrupting their movement is obviously an international effort but we are actively involved in various coalitions and forums and working in partnership with countries in the region to track the fighters.”
Our Government has previously confirmed a handful of Kiwi’s are among the ranks of foreign “jihadis” who have flocked to Syria and Iraq in support of the Islamic State, some of them leaving via Australia.
So-called “jihadi brides” from New Zealand have also left for Syria via Australia.
Key said because some of the fighters are dual passport holders they may attempt to come to New Zealand if they can’t get into Australia first.
“But of course New Zealand and Australia share information and as best we can we have access to the most available and the most up to date information,” he said.