A New Zealand-born member of al-Qaida has been killed by the United States in a drone strike for the first time.
Prime Minister John Key knew and did not let on until details of the lethal use of force leaked out today.
The airstrike targeted a convoy on the road to a small town in south Yemen, and the group had a strong Australian connection as well.
A United States drone strike in Yemen in August last year took out suspected al-Qaida operatives. In November there was another drone attack there, in the Hadramout province – an al-Qaida stronghold and Osama Bin Laden's ancestral home.
A similar predator drone opened fire and killed five al-Qaida fighters, including a Kiwi known as Muslim bin John or Abu Suhaib al-Australi. He was born in New Zealand and still has family here. A dual Australian citizen, Muslim bin John is reported to be an al-Qaida foot soldier.
New Zealand's GCSB spies knew he went to Yemen some time ago and so did Mr Key.
"I knew that he had gone there and gone to a terrorist training camp," says Mr Key.
In fact, Mr Key signed a warrant so he could be spied on. Mr Key used spying on Kiwis fighting for al-Qaida as a reason for the GCSB law change.
"I think all that shows is what I've been saying for some time, and that is we need our intelligence agencies to track our people," says Mr Key.
Some of the five fighters killed have been eulogised on the internet, including an Australian, Christopher Howard from Townsville. Muslim bin John's body was left in Yemen.
"He's buried in Yemen as I understand it," says Mr Key.
News broke today, but Mr Key has kept quiet since last year.
"I was advised it was highly likely he was killed in the latter part, I think, of 2013," says Mr Key. "It took some time to absolutely confirm that through DNA."
Washington is on the defensive over drone strikes, with thousands estimated to have been killed, including hundreds of innocent civilians.
The United States did not inform New Zealand of this strike; Mr Key's spies told him afterwards.
"My intelligence agencies informed me. I don't know where they got the information from."
It is, in Mr Key's view, a legitimate drone strike, but it means the controversial drone strikes have hit home.
source: newshub archive