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New Zealand accepts return of IS-linked woman and her children

The decision follows a bitter dispute with Australia over which country should shoulder responsibility for the woman.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: AP
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: AP

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she has agreed to a request from Turkish authorities to accept the return of a New Zealand citizen accused of having links to the Islamic State (IS), and her two young children.

The three have been in immigration detention in Turkey after they were caught earlier this year trying to enter Turkey from Syria, Reuters is reporting.

The Turkish government identified the New Zealand citizen Suhayra Aden as a terrorist belonging to the IS, according to Xinhua.

The decision follows a bitter dispute with Australia over which country needed to shoulder responsibility for the woman, who had been a dual citizen of both countries until Australia stripped her citizenship under its anti-terrorism laws.

“New Zealand has not taken this step lightly. We have taken into account our international responsibilities as well as the details of this particular case, including the fact that children are involved,” Ardern said in a statement after a cabinet meeting in Wellington.

The woman’s family moved from New Zealand to Australia when she was six and she grew up there before leaving for Syria in 2014 on an Australian passport.

While she was away and reportedly involved with the IS, the Australian government revoked her citizenship and refused to reverse the decision despite calls from New Zealand.

“Unfortunately, Australia would not reverse the cancellation of her citizenship,” Ardern said.

“A number of other countries have managed the return of mothers and children from the region and this is the position we now find ourselves in,” she said, adding in this case the welfare and best interests of the children has been a primary concern.

Earlier this year, Ardern said Australia’s decision was wrong and the country was abdicating its responsibilities by “unilaterally” cancelling the citizenship of the woman.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the woman lost her citizenship as a result of her own actions, and that ending citizenship for dual nationals engaged in terrorist conduct was an integral part of Australia’s response to terrorist threats, the AP reports.

“The government’s first priority is always to protect the Australian community,” Andrews said in a statement.

Australia has now given assurances it will consult with New Zealand if similar cases arise in future, Ardern said.

Details about arrangements or timing to bring the family home will not be made public for security reasons.

Turkish authorities have said that the woman, now age 26, was a Daesh (IS) terrorist wanted with a “blue notice”.

An Interpol blue notice is issued to collect additional information about a person’s identity, location or activities in relation to a crime.

“It has previously been made clear that any New Zealander who might be suspected of association with a terrorist group should expect to be investigated under New Zealand law, but that would be a matter for the Police,” Ardern said.