NZ's 'jihadi brides' worries spy boss

SIS head Rebecca Kitteridge (3 News)
SIS head Rebecca Kitteridge (3 News)

New Zealand women are going to the Middle East to become jihadi brides, Prime Minister John Key says.

It's known that some left after last minute "weddings" and went to Syria, he told reporters today.

"The facts, as we know them, point to them having gone as jihadi bridges," he said.

Mr Key was speaking after the head of the SIS, Rebecca Kitteridge, told Parliament's intelligence and security committee more New Zealand women were going to Syria and Iraq.

She says it's a new development, and she's worried about it.

"Something that's changed over the last year is the issue of women going to Syria and Iraq, it's something we haven't seen previously," she told the intelligence and security committee today.

Mr Key, the committee chairman, asked her if the women were going to those countries to become jihadi brides.

"Presumably," Ms Kitteridge replied.

"It's difficult to see what they do when they get there, whether they're going to fight or support other fighters isn't clear but it's a real concern that they're going at all."

Ms Kitteridge said those who went to the Middle East appeared to support Islamic State, and they would be exposed to "acts of barbarism" and would be trained in combat.

"They will pose a significant threat if they return to New Zealand or go to other countries," she said.

She told the committee the number of people on the SIS watchlist was still between 30 and 40, with some of them under 24/7 surveillance.

"The seriousness with which we regard some of them has increased," she told the committee.

Ms Kitteridge says there's been a "significant increase" in the global terrorism threat over the last 12 months.

"The threat to our domestic security posed by foreign fighters and other extremists is real, and continues to develop," she said.

Ms Kitteridge was asked by Labour's David Shearer why, if the individuals being watched posed a threat, they weren't being arrested.

Ms Kitteridge said they would have to commit a criminal act for that to happen.

"People can have discussions about what they'd like to do, and that isn't against the law," she said.

"If there's going to be enough to warrant an arrest, no one would be more pleased than me."