A New Zealander has been killed while fighting in Syria – the first Kiwi casualty in the civil war.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said it is aware of “unconfirmed reports” a New Zealander has died fighting in the Middle East country.
It did not say when the death happened but confirmed the ministry provided consular assistance.
MFAT refused to release any further details, citing several reasons including privacy and a threat to national security.
The Kiwi’s death was also mentioned in a public statement by Syria’s permanent representative in New York, in which he referred to “criminals, mercenaries” from around the world.
“Thousands of innocent Syrians got killed, thousands were wounded, because of so-called cross border terrorists. They call themselves roundly speaking jihadists, they are not.
The death toll in the three-year Syrian conflict has risen to about 162,000, but this is the first time a New Zealander has been revealed as being among the casualties.
A spokesman for the New Zealand-based Syrian Solidarity, Ali Akil, argued the fighters were not terrorists, but were helping to depose the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime. “If there is any terrorism, then it is the terrorism of Assad and his associates,” said Akil.
Banning passports would not stop New Zealanders from travelling to Syria to take up arms, he said.
“If they want to get there, they will get there. I would hope that the New Zealand public does care about what’s happening over there.
“We don’t encourage people to go and fight. They don’t need fighters; they do need weapons and food.”
Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said the Government had a duty to clarify how the person died.
In February, Prime Minister John Key revealed the Government had cancelled the passports of a “handful” of New Zealanders wanting to travel to Syria. He added a small group of New Zealanders had travelled there and if they returned they would be monitored for signs of being radicalised.
Family sought help for drone victim
The family of alleged terror suspect Daryl Jones asked the Government to help find him 18 months before he was hit by a drone strike.
Jones, also known as Muslim bin John, was killed in Yemen last November after allegedly joining an al Qaeda splinter group.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Nick Markwell said Jones came to ministry attention in May 2012.
“There has been ongoing correspondence since May 2012 with other New Zealand Government departments and Australian agencies, in an effort to provide consular support to his family,” he said.
The MFAT statement, released under the Official Information Act, reveals the agencies were monitoring Jones’ movements at the time of the drone strike on November 19.
Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Kennedy Graham said MFAT should come clean.
“This is 19th-century stuff when diplomats and rulers knew best; not 21st century democracy where the public are informed and able to make a collective judgment themselves.”
The Herald on Sunday revealed in April a second man killed in the drone strike, Australian Christopher Havard, had attracted the attention of authorities while living in New Zealand after he ran out on a flat without paying the rent.
This week, his family told ABC’s 7.30 current affairs show Havard was radicalised at a Christchurch mosque – a claim denied by Muslim leaders.