Security sector practitioner perceptions of the terror threat environment before the Christchurch attacks

On 15 March 2019, Brenton Tarrant destroyed New Zealand’s perception of its low threat terrorist risk. Security sector practitioners interviewed for this study before 15 March spoke about the challenges of performing counter terrorism roles in that low threat environment. Their perceptions revealed a fear that terrorist attacks occurring overseas, would sooner or later occur in New Zealand. Their roles were complicated by an overarching sense of social, bureaucratic and political complacency toward the threat of terrorism. They perceived legislative inertia, which fettered the powers and resources agencies had to effectively act against the risks they believed were present. Despite these barriers, security sector agencies continued to look for possible emerging threats across a spectrum of risk, but relied on improvised use of existing legislation to manage it. This was more effective against those motivated by militant jihadism, and as Tarrant demonstrated, less so against other threats. Community engagement was needed and successfully achieved, although difficulties were observed which need to be addressed, and the media was perceived as having an undue influence over New Zealand’s security priorities, highlighting the need for a national counter terrorism strategy.

Tags: counter-terrorism, militant jihadism, New Zealand, Right-wing extremism, security sector