New Zealand Jihadi brides are known to have taken part in “weddings” before heading to Islamic State (IS) stronghold Syria, Prime Minister John Key has revealed.
Key confirmed the information after SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge revealed a rise in the number of young New Zealand women heading to Iraq and Syria.
Kitteridge was giving evidence to Parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee, chaired by Prime Minister John Key.
Also giving evidence was acting Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) Director Una Jagose.
Kitteridge told the committee there had been a rise in the number of New Zealand women travelling to Syria and Iraq.
“It’s something we haven’t seen before.”
Key said after the committee there was “no question one or two people have left” for Syria and they and were known to have engaged in weddings “effectively at the very last minute”.
That pointed to the fact they were going as Jihadi brides, Key said.
Hundreds of young women world wide have been recruited to the Islamic State cause as so-called Jihadi brides, few of them returning home.
The terrorist organisation has actively targeted young Western women for the cause.
Kitteridge said after the committee hearing the numbers leaving from New Zealand were small but significant – but declined to give further details.
But she confirmed it was fewer than a dozen. Their plight was a worry, however.
“Obviously I’d be concerned whatever they’re doing in a war zone of that kind so there would be a really significant concern about what they’re being exposed to, the kind of conditions that they’re in, their ability to get away if they want, or how heavily radicalised or exposed to acts of barbarism they might be seeing.
“So for a whole range of reasons its a real concern to us.”
RISING TERROR THREAT
In evidence to the committee, Kitteridge said the past 12 months had seen a significant increase in the global terrorism threat.
“When I started as director of security in May 2014 the so-called Islamic State was barely talked about in New Zealand. Now a day rarely goes by without news of some act of violent extremism associated with IS.”
The threat to New Zealand’s domestic security posed by foreign terrorist fighters and other extremists was real and continued to develop.
“The number of New Zealanders fighting alongside or supporting IS remains small but has increased.”
That included the rise in the number of New Zealand women travelling to Syria and Iraq.
“Individuals who succeed in travelling to the Middle East to support IS will be exposed to acts of barbarism and may be trained in combat.
“They will pose a significant threat if they return to New Zealand or travel to other countries.”
Earlier, Kitteridge had told the committee that the number of Kiwis on a terrorist watchlist remained about the same, but the seriousness with which they were viewed had escalated.
The committee was told of 24 hour surveillance on some but a lack of evidence to charge them, despite concerns they were accessing radicalised material and talking about committing attacks.
“A lot of them seem to be people who may have other problems in their life,” Kitteridge said.
“It’s not your average person going out to work and happily married and raising kids… it’s a pattern of people who are kind of disengaged in some way with a productive life.”
They were from a range of backgrounds and represented a “diversity of people”.
The SIS was seeing online radicalisation, where groups and individuals use social media “to connect with susceptible people and distribute material that incites or encourages extreme violence”.
“The concern about this kind of radicalisation is that it can happen very quickly. Our counterparts in other countries have remarked how quickly an individual can be radicalised.
“Sometimes it takes only a matter or weeks and can occur without any agency – or even close family -being alerted.”
‘NOT ISLAM’S TEACHING’
Hazim Arafeh, a spokesperson for he Islamic community, said he was surprised to hear women from New Zealand may have left the country to join ISIS.
“We are not aware of New Zealand Muslim woman going over to Syria to get married. If it is happening, we still don’t know if it is a genuine case, or are they joining ISIS,” he said.
Arafeh said he was confident there were no mosques in New Zealand teaching radical ideology, but accepted people could still be influenced by online material.
“We are trying to educate Muslims of New Zealand, and the wider community, the ISIS ideology is not part of Islam’s teachings.
“Their ideology should never spread into mosques. The only way this ideology can leak into New Zealand is through social and the internet,” he said.
ANY SIGNS MISSED?
Professor of strategic studies Robert Ayson said people should not be surprised at the news women may be joining the terrorist group.