WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand will beef up steps to monitor and prevent its citizens from joining Islamic State (IS) fighting in Iraq and Syria, but has ruled out any military involvement in the conflict, Prime Minister John Key said on Wednesday.
Key said the country had to acknowledge that the risks it faced from the rise of IS have increased, with New Zealand citizens involved directly in the fighting, raising funds, or promoting the militants.
Key said the government would extend powers to suspend or cancel passports, while the security service would be given added funding and powers of surveillance of suspected IS supporters.
He said between 30 and 40 New Zealanders people were “of concern in a foreign fighter context” and were on a watch list compiled by government agencies.
“These are people in, or from New Zealand who are in various ways participating in extremist behavior,” Key said in a speech, adding that as many as another 40 people would be investigated further.
He said there were individuals who might “turn their minds to terrorist acts at home”.
New Zealand would increase its humanitarian aid to those displaced by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. However, he said the country would not be involved in fighting in the region.
“I‘m ruling out sending SAS (Special Air Squadron) or any troops into combat roles in Iraq, though our military can and may well help with building capacity and capability of Iraqi forces,” Key said.
Military planners would be sent to the Middle East to gather information and assess training options.
New Zealand was part of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, sending special forces and a reconstruction team, but refused to be directly involved in combat in the U.S.-led war in Iraq, instead sending engineers to help with reconstruction.
Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Michael Perry