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.