Govt rubbishes 'jihadi bride' claims

Gerry Brownlee (Simon Wong / Newshub)
Gerry Brownlee (Simon Wong / Newshub)

By Peter Wilson

The Government is rejecting opposition claims that the public were misled into believing women had left New Zealand to become "jihadi brides" in Syria and Iraq.

It was revealed yesterday that the women, who were New Zealand citizens, actually left from Australia where they were living at the time.

The head of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), Rebecca Kitteridge, made headline news last year when she told a Parliamentary committee "the issue of women going to Syria and Iraq" was a new development.

Prime Minister John Key, the chairman of the committee, then asked her if the women were going to become jihadi brides.

"Presumably," Ms Kitteridge said.

"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 concern they're going at all."

It was widely assumed at the time that the women had left New Zealand.

The fact that they did not wasn't known until yesterday when RNZ reported it had SIS documents, obtained under the Official Information Act, which said they left from Australia.

In Parliament today, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei wanted to know whether Mr Key knew from the start that the women didn't leave from New Zealand.

Gerry Brownlee, answering on Mr Key's behalf, said the prime minister did know.

"As New Zealand citizens, it doesn't matter where they left from," he said.

"If they pose a security risk on their return, that is something we are concerned about."

Chris Finlayson, the minister in charge of the SIS, denied to reporters that the public had been left with the impression the women left New Zealand.

"The critical issue is that they were New Zealand citizens, where they left from is irrelevant," he said.

Ms Turei says the Government deliberately used the jihadi brides issue to whip up security concerns at a time the spy agencies were under review.

She says a "paranoid shadow" was cast over Muslim women and when the Islamic Women's Council asked for information it was told nothing.

Mr Finlayson said he was holding a pre-arranged meeting with members of Auckland's Muslim population tomorrow night.

Asked whether he would offer an apology, he replied: "You don't just go around handing out apologies when there's no reason at all."