The muslim community in New Zealand was probed by United States diplomats for signs of extremist behaviour – even visiting a mosque to listen to a preacher’s teaching.
Signs of a Kiwi al-Qaeda failed to emerge despite mosque visits, quiet dinners with members of the Muslim society and meetings with Islamic scholars.
The investigation is revealed in the latest WikiLeaks cables obtained by the Herald on Sunday.
The cables identify TV3 reporter Ali Ikram when relaying information from the New Zealand Muslim community.
The reference came from a 2006 dinner with “active members of the Muslim community”. Ikram’s name is recorded in a “confidential” memo.
Ikram was quoted as saying “many young and educated Muslim New Zealanders are, like their non-Muslim compatriots, leaving for Australia to find jobs”.
Ikram said the record of the dinner matched his memory – although he hadn’t expected the embassy guest, State Department officer Kaweem Koshaan, to report the details back to Washington.
“They probably didn’t have a lot to do down here,” he said. “It does speak of the level of paranoia about the potential threat of Muslim extremism anywhere in the world.”
Most of the cables reflect US concern over Wahhabi teachings creeping into Islam in New Zealand. Wahhabi advocates purging the religion of impurities.
The consular official who attended the Ponsonby mosque recorded his impressions of the clothing, posters, prayers and speech that were heard and seen. “The imam wore traditional Arabic garb, sometimes indicative of Wahhabi leanings.”
A spokesman for the mosque said the visit was not known. “He would have visited as a worshipper. Everyone is welcome.”
The intelligence report also talked about infighting in Canterbury mosques and again worry over possible Wahhabi influence.
It ended with a summary which warned Washington to beware of future extremism, saying “the ingredients are there”.
As of 2005, the embassy said the threat from local or international terrorism was low. However, the cables offered a warning to visitors, describing New Zealand as a “medium-risk crime environment”. It said those in cities “should be especially aware that street crime, such as scams and pickpockets, is a daily occurrence”.