Anti-terrorism raids target Bay of Plenty para-military group
Updated 12:14PM Monday October 15, 2007
A para-military group training in the remote eastern Bay of Plenty is being hunted by police under anti-terror laws.
Among the more than a dozen people arrested by midday today was Tuhoe radical Tame Iti.
Iti is currently being held in a Rotorua police cell and is due to appear in Rotorua District Court this afternoon.
The lawyer for Iti and several of the others arrested, Annette Sykes, said she hoped charges would be dropped and described the police operation as "complete overkill".
The armed offenders squad today executed search warrants under the Suppression of Terrorism Act and the Firearms Act at addresses in Auckland, Whakatane, Wellington, Ruatoki, and Hamilton.
Those arrested will appear on firearms charges. More serious charges are believed likely to follow.
Police Commissioner Howard Broad briefed journalists in a special press conference and confirmed what sources had been telling nzherald.co.nz, that police had become concerned about training camps in the eastern Bay of Plenty.
He said the group was drawn from "various ethnicities".
Sources told nzherald.co.nz that the para-military radical group has been attempting to recruit and train people in the eastern Bay of Plenty.
One source said key leaders from around the Ureweras have been approached to join the group, which calls itself the Freedom Fighters.
The source said the training took place in the remote mountain areas, with participants wearing balaclavas and using military methods.
A larger number of people have been taken in for questioning but have not yet been charged and other addresses are expected to be raided.
Herald reporter Juliet Rowan is at Taneatua, about 9kms from Ruatoki and says there is a "massive" police presence.
A roadblock which was earlier in place at Taneatua has now been moved back towards Ruatoki by about 2kms.
Only police vehicles are being allowed through, though a number of cars heading away from Ruatoki have been allowed out.
A helicopter was seen flying up the Ruatoki Valley at about 11am.
Juliet says those in vehicles coming through the roadblock said police had used mirrors to search their cars in Ruatoki.
About 30 police vehicles - both marked and unmarked - are stationed at the nearby Taneatua Squash Club.
The Bay of Plenty does not have a media liaison officer but Juliet says liaison officers from the Waikato and Bay of Plenty districts have been brought in to deal with media inquiries.
Prime Minister Helen Clark was asked about the anti-terrorism operation this morning and said: "I am aware of a police operation. I don't have anything further to say about it right now."
Detective Inspector Harry Quinn, crime services manager in the Wellington police district, said specialist staff were continuing to search addresses in the region this morning.
Search warrants had been executed in central Wellington and surrounding suburbs, Palmerston North and Christchurch, he said.
Police were looking for people, firearms and ammunition.
Mr Quinn said several people were being interviewed by police, and firearms and ammunition had been seized.
Searches were yet to be completed at several locations.
In April this year, Maori activist Tame Iti successfully appealed two convictions of possessing a firearm in a public place without lawful purpose.
The Court of Appeal found there was insufficient proof that Mr Iti had acted unlawfully by discharging a shotgun during a Waitangi Tribunal welcome at Ruatoki, in the eastern Bay of Plenty, in January 2005.
The Maori activist originally appeared in the Rotorua District Court in June 2006, where he was found guilty on two counts of possessing a firearm in a public place without lawful purpose and was fined $300 and $130 court costs on each charge.