Patrice Dougan

Patrice Dougan is a NZME. News Service reporter based in Auckland.

Kiwi fighters being misinformed, says Syrian

Men help survivors out of a destroyed building after a Syrian forces warplanes attacked in Aleppo, Syria. Photo / AP/Aleppo Media Center (AMC)
Men help survivors out of a destroyed building after a Syrian forces warplanes attacked in Aleppo, Syria. Photo / AP/Aleppo Media Center (AMC)

New Zealanders who travel to Syria to fight with rebel forces against the Assad regime are being misinformed by recruiters over social media, a Syrian living in Auckland says.

The comments came after Prime Minister John Key yesterday revealed "a small group" of New Zealanders are fighting in anti-Government forces in Syria, while others have had their passports cancelled to prevent them reaching the war-torn country.

There was a fear such fighters could become radicalised by terrorist groups operating in Syria, such as al-Qaeda, and could pose a threat when they return to New Zealand, Mr Key said.

Syrian national Husam al-Diery said some Kiwis who want to fight with rebel forces had been misinformed by recruiters.

"They're not Syrians the ones that do go, they get influenced by social media, as it does on many people, it kind of gives off this notion that if we do not rise now we will be oppressed forever, and they go thinking they're truly going to fight for a noble cause," Mr al-Diery told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report.

"Unfortunately it's ... misinformation.

"Who is really fighting for a noble cause in Syria? There's so many people fighting for different personal gains and different political gains, that you don't really know who you're fighting with anymore."

Meanwhile, Ali Akil of Syrian Solidarity New Zealand, revealed that two brothers had been prevented from leaving New Zealand as they tried to make their way to Syria.

"According to my sources, their parents are the ones who called up and asked for them to be stopped," he said, accusing Mr Key of "scaremongering and providing twisted information for political gain".

The brothers were the only people he had heard of who had attempted to join the rebel forces, he said.

"John Key has suggested very few people have [gone to Syria], and mentioned they have gone there to fight against the Assad regime which is actually something that we should honour them for, not strip them of their rights for," he told Morning Report.

He questioned why Mr Key would "criminalise" those who decide to fight against Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is known to have used chemical weapons against civilians.

"The New Zealand Government has actually sent our own New Zealand soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan to liberate them from dictators, or so we were told. Isn't it ridiculous to now criminalise those who choose to do exactly the same thing in Syria?"

He added: "New Zealanders have been taking part in conflicts around the world, including those who have joined Israeli forces, yet we have not heard of their passports being cancelled."

Mr Akil said such actions by the Government would be more likely to radicalise young, disillusioned Kiwis than fighting in Syria.

"I think what radicalises people is injustice, and that's exactly what John Key has done in this case. It's stripping people of their rights."

- APNZ

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