SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge.
Security Intelligence Service (SIS) boss Rebecca Kitteridge has warned the military defeats inflicted on Islamic State (IS) have not yet reduced the terror threat it poses in countries like New Zealand.
The two heads of the SIS and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) made a rare late-night appearance in front of Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, chaired by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, to talk about the threats to New Zealand.
In her report to the committee, Kitteridge said countering the threat of terrorism was still a significant focus for the SIS despite the diminishing extent of the IS caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
Asked later about that reference, Kitteridge said New Zealand had seen that “there are some young people who are vulnerable to that type of messaging since Isil (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) burst onto the scene in late 2013 and 2014”.
Kitteridge said she could not discuss specific cases.
However, there has been publicity recently about a Kiwi teen radicalised online who planned to ram a car into a group of people in Christchurch and then stab them.
The teen wrote a goodbye note to his mother, then started a violent incident, but did not have the means to kill anyone as he did not have access to knives.
The SIS has a constant watch list of between 30 and 40 people either in New Zealand or New Zealand citizens who are active in IS, but Kitteridge said the list changed often.
People either grew up, or got married, and had families and settled down, she said.
But others were recruited to the cause in their place by IS propaganda, most of it on the web.
“Unfortunately [IS] still do manage to distribute that messaging. Despite the fact the caliphate has degraded, we still see that messaging being effective with some vulnerable young people.”
GCSB director-general Andrew Hampton said it was still easy to go on the web and find IS propaganda material, despite its heavy defeats in Syria and Iraq.
“It’s still to be seen what’s going to happen with Isil propaganda when the caliphate is eventually defeated, whether they go and set up somewhere else. But they are still active online.”
Online was still the most common way people were recruited to the cause.
But as people grew older they often grew out of their interest in the terror group, Kitteridge revealed.
“Thankfully some people do grow up and so we’re not interested in watching or monitoring people forever. If there are people who stop being subjects of interest to us…that’s a good outcome.”
Often it was family influence, or police or even the intervention of the SIS that persuaded people to pursue a more “productive” life.