SIS sheds light on jihadi saga

NEW ZEALAND – The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) did not intend to mislead the New Zealand public over the jihadi brides controversy, but was not in a position to reveal the details when the story broke , its director says.

Director Rebecca Kitteridge said the SIS could not reveal the women travelling to areas controlled by Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East had left from Australia, not New Zealand, at the time.

“… because the information about the women had come from a partner agency and we didn’t have permission to release that information at the time,” she said.

“But when I got the Official Information Act request subsequently we asked for permission from the agency — the partner agency — to release the information that the women had left from Australia, and it took some weeks to get that permission – and when we did we released it.”

The controversy arose when Ms Kitteridge said during an Intelligence and Security Committee in December last year that New Zealand was seeing an increase in the number of women travelling to Islamic State-controlled areas, possibly to become “jihadi brides”.

It then emerged in March that the women, who had been discussed as a security risk to New Zealand, had not left from New Zealand, but were New Zealand citizens living in Australia and had left from there.

NZ Prime Minister John Key was subsequently accused of misleading the public and scaremongering to suit his own political agenda.

Labour leader Andrew Little said at the time that the Government “have deliberately and calculatedly created an impression that simply wasn’t correct, that is there was a security risk that simply didn’t exist”.

Ms Kitteridge stood by the decision to discuss the risk posed without disclosing that they had not left from New Zealand.

“Well, I do understand that the media is interested in the local story but that wasn’t the focus from my point of view as director,” she said.

“The security concern is the fact that New Zealand citizens are in an ISIS-controlled part of the Middle East and potentially could return here.”

Ms Kitteridge said the women were discussed in the context of a domestic security threat because of the risk of them returning to New Zealand from the Middle East.

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