Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Radical took refuge in NZ

Suspected al-Qaeda member killed in Yemen had fled the Tenancy Tribunal over a $4,000 rent bill

A US Predator drone in Yemen killed Kiwi man Muslim bin John and other suspected al-Qaeda members. Photo / AP
A US Predator drone in Yemen killed Kiwi man Muslim bin John and other suspected al-Qaeda members. Photo / AP

An al-Qaeda "foot soldier" killed in a drone strike in Yemen had lived in New Zealand for two years until he fled from the authorities.

Christopher Havard, 27, "scarpered" after the Tenancy Tribunal ordered him to pay a $4,000 bill for damage and unpaid rent at a Dunedin property. He moved to Christchurch, where he survived the February 2011 earthquake before moving to Yemen.

He and Muslim bin John, a dual citizen of New Zealand and Australia, were among five suspected al-Qaeda members who died in a US Predator drone strike last November.

Australian media reported that Havard might have become radicalised in New Zealand. However, Muslims at the Al-Noor Mosque in Christchurch remember him as a loner — a lanky, heavily-tattooed Australian who used to tie up his Dobermans outside the mosque while praying.

Canterbury Muslim Association secretary Jamal Green said that Havard was on the periphery of the mosque.

"Some are led to paths that are respectful, constructive and peaceful, and others are in a whole different place."

Havard, a drifter who converted to Islam after a wayward youth, felt at home in New Zealand, according to his grandmother Jeanette Havard. "He loved it over there," she said from her home in Townsville, North Queensland.

"He was very happy there. I think he liked the friendship, he liked everything about New Zealand."

He moved to New Zealand with a mystery Kiwi and stayed with this man's family while getting established, said Jeanette Havard.

It is unclear whether this person was Muslim bin John.

By mid 2010, Havard was living in Dunedin. But one day in September, Havard left in a hurry, leaving $4,000 in unpaid rent.

A Tenancy Tribunal report said he had also broken a window playing backyard cricket.

"He just scarpered," said a property manager from Edinburgh Realty. "We tried to get him through the police, bailiffs. The cops couldn't find him, no one could find him."

Havard was living in Christchurch when the February 2011 quake hit. It destroyed his home and it is thought he sought shelter from acquaintances at the mosque.

Within a few months of leaving New Zealand, Havard moved to Yemen, where authorities believe he met Muslim bin John for the first time. He reportedly became a "foot soldier" for al-Qaeda and was killed by a US drone strike in November last year.

Jeanette Havard said her grandson showed no signs of extremist ideologies prior to moving to New Zealand. She said the family felt betrayed by the Australian Government at labelling her grandson as a "terrorist" and refusing to help bring his remains home.

"I'm angry for my daughter and I'm angry because he was my grandson, and I think what they've done was extremely wrong," she said.

"When it doesn't affect you I think we all tend to think like that. But when people don't know the person, and they're making dreadful judgments, they're so very wrong."

Last week, Prime Minister John Key confirmed details of the US drone attack and revealed Muslim bin John was being monitored by intelligence services before moving to Yemen.

Yesterday, he would not comment on whether authorities were also monitoring Havard.

Intelligence expert Paul Buchanan said it was likely that New Zealand mosques were heavily infiltrated by intelligence agencies and he would have come to their attention.

"If he had been radicalised in New Zealand, the SIS and the GCSB would have been working to track him and any other of the hotheads, and would have had a significant role in following them on their journey to Yemen."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 21 Oct 2014 22:48:00 Processing Time: 378ms