An influential Maori Muslim leader is openly supporting the Islamic State militant group and believes Kiwi fighters should not be stopped from joining.
Te Amorangi Kireka-Whaanga is the head of the Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association and in 2010 was named one of the world's 500 most influential Muslims by a group in Jordan, one of only two New Zealanders to make the list.
The Sunday Star-Times began investigating him after discovering his Facebook pages were festooned with Islamic State imagery. He has 905 friends on Facebook, many of them Muslim converts from around New Zealand. His pages have been repeatedly taken down in recent weeks by Facebook administrators.
Islamic State has been taking over towns and cities in Syria and Iraq, conducting massacres and beheadings of hostages, as it tries to establish an Islamic caliphate. Its followers in the West have been conducting "lone wolf" terrorist attacks in recent weeks.
At home in Hastings yesterday, Kireka-Whaanga told the Star-Times Muslims were being killed all over the world, the United Nations "doesn't care" and he understood Islamic State' actions.
"If you practise your religion then of course you'll be 100 per cent behind Islamic State," he said, adding that he was not a violent person. His comments come as tension rises between Muslim New Zealanders and others in the community following statements by Prime Minister John Key about the domestic terror threat.
Muslim leaders and senior police met in Auckland on Friday to discuss the issues.
Federation of Islamic Associations (FIANZ) president Anwar Ghani said they expressed concerns about the amount of harassment they were getting, including women wearing veils being abused, while police asked that community leaders keep an eye out for changing behaviour among potential radicals.
Kireka-Whaanga said John Key was right to be worried because Islamic State was going to "bring down Western civilisation". He said his family wanted to move to Syria but he expected his passport would be cancelled. He claimed to have one "brother" in Syria at the moment.
"If I want to go to Syria that should be my right and my choice. It's like the Jews going to fight for Israel to kill the Palestinians. They don't stop that."
On Wednesday Key will make a speech outlining the Government's plans to combat foreign fighters.
Security Intelligence Service director Rebecca Kitteridge said Islamic State propaganda material telling followers "every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader and kill him" brought the threat closer to home than people thought. "There is a range of people who we are concerned about here," she said. She refused to discuss individuals. Kireka-Whaanga, 40, who has Mongrel Mob connections, said he used Facebook to "propagate the faith. I am pushing the religion. I like going into chatrooms and talk about Islam."
He said Islamic State supporters among local Muslims were in the minority but this would change "once we start talking to each other".
He said he had been regularly visited by police and intelligence agents since 9/11.
"If I say a word out of line [on Facebook] the police can show up. They get worried I'm going to go and blow up people. Once they understand I'm not like that they're OK."
FIANZ says Kireka-Whaanga's views are misguided and not shared by most Muslims.
The Star-Times revealed 10 years ago that Kireka-Whaanga was visiting prisons as part of a project to convert inmates to Islam. The visits were banned after the article.
A senior Corrections source said there were new concerns that a small number of Maori Muslim inmates were becoming radicalised and might pose a threat on their release.
Bevan Hanlon of the Corrections Association said the issue of Muslim radicals in prisons was brought up with staff on a recent nationwide tour but no-one raised it as a concern.
- Sunday Star Times
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