Unmasking the source behind the school bomb threats

MARY ARGUE
mary.argue@age.co.nz

An intelligence expert believes anti-mask circles are behind a hoax bomb threat at a Masterton school.

Former intelligence and defence policy analyst Dr Paul Buchanan said members of an anti-mask and vaccine movement were the most likely candidates behind threatening phone calls that locked down schools across New Zealand last week.

St Matthew’s Collegiate received a hoax bomb threat at 11am on Thursday morning, triggering a lockdown and police presence at the Pownall St secondary school while the risk was assessed.

Buchanan said for the past 18 months, New Zealand intelligence services had maintained that the greatest threat to national security came from the anti-vaccination movement.

“It could come from the fringes or the centre of the movement.

“They [NZ intelligence] have said, ‘this is where we think a threat is going to come from. We think it is a real possibility.”

He said intelligence, combined with the “latest controversy of masks in schools”, currently pointed to the anti-vaccination movement as the source of the calls.

The Ministry of Education strongly recommended schools implement mask policies for term three, which began on Monday.

Buchanan said the calls had varied across schools, from public to private, rural, and metropolitan.

“It’s a general canvas, if you will, of the school-age population.

“People like Counter Spin, Voices for Freedom, they have said they will take the campaign to schools.”

He said the fact that the calls appeared to originate from overseas did not exclude an internal threat.

He said channelling calls through a Virtual Private Network easily disguised a nation’s identifying code.

Police

St Matthew’s Collegiate went into lockdown after receiving a threatening phone call yesterday morning.

“It is an intimidation campaign. They are technologically sophisticated with how they interact with each other, and given the nature of the coverage in the North and South Islands, this is not a local issue.”

Buchanan said targeting children was a tried and true intimidation tactic to incite fear and panic.

“It undermines authorities and public faith in the government.

“This has occurred around the world. It’s about sewing fear and uncertainty, but you can’t discount violence.”

He said police were taking the threats seriously.

“History has shown us in other parts of the world that threats can lead to violent action.”

Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller said four other threats, in addition to St Matthew’s, were called in across New Zealand yesterday.

He said it was still too early to comment on the source of the threatening phone calls.

“There’s no specific reason that has been given for the threats to the schools, other than that the schools are seen to be supporting national and global events.”

He said police would act swiftly on every threat and would provide reassurance to the community.

Police said inquiries were underway in relation to threats at 18 schools covering Masterton, Kaikoura, Levin, Greymouth, Queenstown, Palmerston North, Whanganui, Rolleston, Takaka, Geraldine, Dunstan, and Ashburton.

Assistant Commissioner Bruce O’Brien said five schools were targeted on Tuesday and a further 13 received phone calls on Thursday.

He said the calls were believed to be computer-generated and were similar in nature, indicating explosive devices had been planted at the school. He said they were designed to cause concern, harm, and disruption.

O’Brien said police were focusing on the finding the origin of the calls and considering all options.

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