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November 14, 2007 08:30am
NEW Zealand police monitored activists talking of assassinations and blowing up power plants and communications systems before arresting them.
Court papers show that among targets discussed for assassination were main opposition National Party leader John Key and US President George W Bush, while an al-Qaeda manual on terrorist actions was among "about 10" that group members claimed to be using.
Daily newspapers in Wellington and Christchurch published the evidence today from police surveillance cited in an affidavit used in court to gain warrants to arrest the people involved.
The secret evidence was amassed from months of police surveillance of military-style training camps allegedly used to train Maori independence activists, extreme environmentalists and others on weapons use and survival in the bush.
The 16 activists were arrested on suspicion of breaching the nation's arms and anti-terror laws - but police were later prevented by the nation's top legal officer from bringing terrorism charges.
Solicitor General David Collins last week ruled against charges being laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act against 12 of those arrested in the raids.
While police had good reason to investigate the alleged weapons training activity, New Zealand's anti-terror laws were too complex to apply in this instance, he said. He was "unable to authorise the prosecutions" under the terror law.
All 16 of those arrested still face charges under the Arms Act. They have been released on police bail under strict conditions that include surrender of passports and other restrictions on their movements and activities.
New Zealand's Arms Act prohibits private ownership of military-style weapons and requires all gun owners to hold an arms licence to own and use firearms.
Reports said the training camps involved the use of military-style weapons, Molotov cocktails, napalm-based bombs and other explosives.
Police and the Solicitor General immediately condemned publication of the police affidavit.
Deputy Commissioner Rob Pope said they would investigate publication of the material, "and any other publication which could be considered to breach court suppression orders or potentially compromise criminal proceedings."
Council for Civil Liberties chairman Tony Ellis, a senior barrister, warned release of the information could prejudice the fair trials of the 16.
The capital's Dominion Post newspaper said in an editorial it "has not taken lightly the decision" to publish the material.
"We believe we are acting within the law; we also believe we are acting in the public interest," it noted on its front page.
As the papers published the police material, protesters from the small town of Ruatoki, one of the centres for police raids on suspects last month, were travelling in a convoy to Parliament in Wellington to protest the action of the armed anti-terror police.