A close friend of Daryl Jones, the Christchurch man killed by a drone strike while working alongside al Qaeda operatives in Yemen last year, suspects his mate was brainwashed.
The friend said Jones wanted to become an imam, or priest, not a terrorist and was shocked when he heard from Jones' family that he had been killed alongside terrorists.
"That's not the person I experienced at all, quite the opposite, but in saying that I guess they could brainwash anyone."
The friend said Jones was so committed to Islam that, when he returned to New Zealand on holiday from the Middle East, he would try to convert his mates to Islam.
"[He'd say] you've got to get on board or you're not going to be saved. You've got to accept Allah . . . and if you don't you're going to burn forever."
Around 2005, Jones travelled to the Middle East to marry a Somali woman. "It was an arranged marriage."
The family returned to Christchurch to live and went on to have four children, although Jones frequently returned to the Middle East and was killed while there before he met his youngest child.
The friend said that, when Jones travelled to the Middle East, he was often subject to security checks on his journeys.
"I know flying from Yemen back to New Zealand, in Dubai he'd always get checked and frisked, he was always saying how much they picked on him. He had this horrible beard he couldn't grow properly, it was just the whole look."
Like Jones' family, the friend has questions about the way Jones was killed when a United States drone struck a convoy he was travelling in.
There were any number of reasons why Jones might have been travelling in the convoy that was attacked, the friend said.
"Where is the evidence [he was a terrorist]? I haven't seen any evidence at all relating to why they justified killing a guy without a trial. I'd love to see some information.
"What justifies an unmanned plane flying above you and shooting a rocket into your car?"
Jones, 30, and Australian Christopher Havard were killed in November. They were not the primary targets of the drone attack, but were described as "collateral damage".
Australian media have quoted anonymous intelligence officials as saying Jones, also known as Muslim bin John and Abu Suhaib al-Australi, and Havard were "foot soldiers" for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Last weekend, the Sunday Star-Times revealed details of Jones' background for the first time, including that his father was a former Australian police officer who worked in a sensitive security role for a Government agency in Christchurch, and that his younger brother, Nathan, helped run a drop-in centre in Christchurch promoting a puritanical form of Islam.
Jones' heartbroken mother, an education sector worker, also wants answers about her son's death.
Prime Minister John Key has labelled the killing "legitimate" but refused to answer any questions about what his Government knew about Jones; whether he was under surveillance here and if so why, whether there was any evidence Jones was a terrorist or involved in any terrorist plot, what information America shared with New Zealand on the drone strike, or whether he demanded any answers from the US over the death of a New Zealand citizen.
Tomorrow's Sunday Star-Times carries new revelations about Jones, including how he coverted to Islam while working for a prominent airline company.
- The Press