PRIME Minister John Key says he has signed surveillance warrants on New Zealanders who are now in Yemen at al-Qaeda terrorist training camps.
He says the number is small, but he’s warning there are “radicalised New Zealanders” who have either left the country or returned.
“I don’t think that’s terribly new, I suspect (former prime minister) Helen Clark would have signed warrants as well,” he told reporters.
“There are warrants on people that I have signed who are currently in Yemen.”
Mr Key earlier on Thursday disclosed there were al-Qaeda operatives in New Zealand during an interview on MoreFM.
He was explaining why the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) needs to have the authority to spy on New Zealanders on behalf of the police and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS).
“In the real world, in New Zealand, there are people who have been trained in al-Qaeda camps, who operate out of New Zealand, who are in contact with people overseas,” he said.
“I accept there’s a balance between national security and privacy but people need to put a bit of perspective around it.”
He was speaking just hours before a bill that gives the GCSB legal authority to spy on New Zealanders came up for its second reading in parliament.
Opposition party leaders accused him of cynically using privileged security information to boost public support for the contentious legislation.
“If he was genuine about protecting the security of New Zealand he would do it in the national interest instead of his own sectarian political twist,” said Green Party co-leader Russel Norman.
Labour leader David Shearer also accused Mr Key of releasing security information to serve his own ends, and said he had alerted risky individuals they were being watched.
“You might as well send them a postcard. It’s incredibly dumb, this is not Boy’s Own,” he said in parliament.
The bill passed its second reading by 61 votes to 59.