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Latest news on “terrorist” arrests from STUFF
LATEST: A nationwide police swoop this morning in connnection with alleged guerrilla style training camps in the Bay of Plenty has resulted in 17 arrests for firearms charges, with the potential for more serious charges to be laid.
So far at least 12 people have appeared in court, facing charges under the Firearms Act and have been remanded in custody.
Those arrested appeared in district courts in Wellington, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Hamilton and Auckland.
Maori, environmental and political activists were targeted by the raids, which began in the early hours of this morning.
Dozens of Armed Offender Squad and secret Special Tactics Group officers were this afternoon in place around Ruatoki, about 15 kilometres south of Whakatane, along with a large number of uniformed and plain clothed police.
Sunday Star Times reporter Tony Wall, who is on the scene, says the main focus appears to be on a bach where the prominent activist Tame Iti lives and Te Ao Hou Maori health trust where he works as a social worker.
Police this morning executed search warrants around the North Island with Police Commissioner Howard Broad saying they had moved “in the interests of public safety“.
Firearms were seized and Mr Broad said the raids resulted from an investigation into suspected weapons training camps held over the past year in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
A high level secret government group based out of Prime Minister Helen Clark’s office has been involved in the unprecedented operation.
The search warrants were carried out under the Firearms Act and the Terrorism Suppression Act.
Today is the first time New Zealand police have used the powers conferred on them by the Terrorism Suppression Act, which came into force in 2002.
During television coverage of the raids tonight, TV One News reported it understood there had been “a threat” to the safety of Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Mr Broad today told media a number of people had been conducting and participating in Bay of Plenty training camps involving the use of firearms and other weapons.
“Based on the information and the activity known to have taken place, I decided it was prudent that action should be taken in the interests of public safety.”
The numbers of people attending the camps had been in the “tens“, he said.
The people involved had been of varying ethnicities, with a raft of different “motivations” for attending.
Training involved the use of firearms and other weapons for “military-style” activity.
Mr Broad said the activity was domestically oriented and there was no evidence of any international connection.
Most who appeared in court today faced weapons charges.
This included six people in Auckland, five men and one women, who appeared in the Auckland District Court this afternoon on a mix of firearms charges, including possession of a military-style semi-automatic weapon, an automatic rifle, molotov cocktails and a rifle.
Five of the accused were remanded without plea and in custody till Friday. The names of all were suppressed till their next court appearance.
A sixth man, Jamie Beattie Lockett, 46, unemployed of Takanini, was remanded till 9.30am tomorrow, when his bail application would be heard.
Mr Lockett said he was a friend of Maori activist Tame Iti but had never transported weapons or ammunition as alleged by police. rifles, shotguns and Molotov cocktails.
The four Wellington accused were also granted name suppression.
The two men, aged 28 and 23, and two women, aged 36 and 30, faced a total of 20 charges between them when they appeared in Wellington District Court this afternoon.
The charges were all firearms-related, jointly charged with other people, many not from Wellington.
The four were remanded in custody until Friday, but the judge said an application to transfer the cases to Auckland could be heard on Wednesday afternoon.
The group had a large contingent of supporters, who filled the public gallery for their appearance.
Friends of the four accused expressed shock and disbelief, saying they were all pacifists.
A 24-year-old Hamilton woman has also appeared in the Rotorua District Court and was remanded in custody for two weeks.
The Sunday Star Times’ Melanie Jones reports that this morning’s arrests are the culmination of months of work by a specialist police anti-terror unit which has hundreds of hours of recordings from bugged conversations, video surveillance, and tapped cellphone calls and texts.
Police have video of military-style training with live ammunition in camps deep in the Urewera mountain ranges and expected to find machine guns and grenades during their raids
Campaigners from various Maori sovereignty, environmental and “peace” groups are implicated.
Police units infiltrated the training camps during months of investigation – sometimes being within metres of those firing live rounds.
Investigators believe although the groups were training together, they were each planning to hit targets related to their own interests although all the hits would be co-ordinated to cause maximum chaos and stretching police resources across the country.
Prominent activist and lawyer Annette Sykes, who is representing some of the accused said this morning’s raids by police were “overkill” and likened them to “the invasions last century“.