New Zealand police raided alleged military-style training camps and private homes today, seizing firearms and arresting 17 people on arms and possible terrorism offenses, authorities said.
More than 300 officers took part in the raids in several parts of North Island and in the southern city of Christchurch, which followed reports to police of camps being used to train people to use a variety of weapons.
"They are training in the use of firearms and other weapons. These are military-style activities that they were training for," Police Commissioner Howard Broad told reporters.
"I believe this is domestically-oriented, I don't have evidence there is an international connection to this," he said.
The groups involved were drawn from "various ethnicities" and had "a variety of motivations," he said, adding they included Maori sovereignty activists and environmental protest groups.
Broad said a number of firearms had been found in the raids.
"I don't believe that protest activity involves firearms or other weapons," he said.
Police spokeswoman Jane Archibald told The Associated Press the 17 people arrested, including four women, would appear in district courts on firearms charges.
In the capital, Wellington, two men and two women appeared in court on weapons changes, including illegal possession of military-style firearms and Molotov cocktails. They were ordered to remain in custody and their names and other details were suppressed by the court.
Further arrests were possible, Archibald said, with inquiries continuing in some areas.
Search warrants were used to seek evidence of offenses under the Arms Act and possibly the Terrorism Suppression Act, Broad said. It would be the first time the anti-terror law had been used.
Once the operation was over police would assess all the information before them before charging anyone under the Terrorism Suppression Act, Broad said.
The law requires consent from the nation's top law officer, the attorney general, before any prosecution can proceed.
Passed in late 2002 in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks in the US, the Act is the main law by which New Zealand complies with U.N. Security Council resolutions to suppress terrorism.
It was the first New Zealand law to define a "terrorist act" and created offenses relating to terrorist bombings and financing terrorism.