Choking back tears and struggling to compose
himself, a relieved Ahmed Zaoui today declared himself a free man,
after the decision by the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) to remove
a security risk certificate against him.
Listen to audio
What do you think of the decision to give Ahmed Zaoui the all clear? Click here to send us your feedback
Mr Zaoui is now anticipating a family reunion as soon as possible.
In a rare public press conference at 3pm, SIS director Warren Tucker said while Mr Zaoui was clearly a risk to the security of New Zealand when he arrived in 2002, that was no longer the case.
A gleeful Mr Zaoui said he was "delighted" with the news and hoped that his wife and four children, who have been living in Malaysia, may soon be permitted to join him in New Zealand.
"I spoke to my family today. They are very excited; they cried. The situation will not be easy but I hope they will come soon"
"The Department of Labour will now ensure that Mr Zaoui's situation and immigration status is regularised as soon as possible, and will be working with his representatives to do that.
"Mr Zaoui will be able to apply to have his family join him."
Mr Zaoui has been separated from his wife, Leila Tidjani, and four children since arriving in New Zealand in December 2002. He has spent almost two years in prison, including 10 months in solitary confinement.
Arriving to a rapturous welcome from supporters at the Catholic community's Dominican Priory in Auckland today, Mr Zaoui struggled to contain his emotions.
Surrounded by his legal team, his voice breaking, Mr Zaoui said he was relieved at the decision.
"Not just because my name is cleared but because the (security) risk is removed and I'm not long considered as a threat to New Zealand," he said.
"When I come to New Zealand I believed fundamentally (it was) a just and democratic country."
In a sign a deal had been struck, Dr Tucker said Mr Zaoui had accepted that the action taken by the SIS in 2002, and since then, was justified. Mr Zaoui had given specific assurances to the SIS about his future activities in New Zealand and signed a sworn statement to that effect.
The SIS would "maintain regular contact with Mr Zaoui for the purpose of enabling me to continue to be comfortable about my assessment that he is no longer a risk," Dr Tucker said.
He would not answer questions about whether the decision was an embarrassment for the SIS, but did say that parts of the Immigration Act had not worked well, and that he regretted the length of time it had taken to reach this point.
Prime Minister Helen Clark issued a brief statement saying the decision was Dr Tucker's alone to make, and that he had her full confidence.
Mr Zaoui expressed his gratitude to Dr Tucker for having the courage to revisit his predecessor's decision to issue the certificate and hoped it would put an end to what he called false accusations, originating from the Algerian military regime, that he was at any time a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism.
He said he conceded that the issuing of the risk certificate was justified "in order to move on", but did not accept that he has in fact at any time been a danger to the security of New Zealand or any other country, nor did he accept the classified information on which the SIS has relied was accurate.
Mr Zaoui said he accepted there would always be suspicions about his background.
"I come to New Zealand to get to safety and I understand some people who are opposed to my case and I can't convince them but the New Zealand Government accepts me."
Mr Zaoui said he was a man of peace and just wanted safety for himself and his family.
He said his focus was now on living a normal life, aimed at promoting inter-faith dialogue and harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims in New Zealand.
Sitting alongside Mr Zaoui, lawyer and long-time advocate Deborah Manning said he had a few wishes for the future other than his family, including resuming his career as an academic.
"He wants to work on his English, he wants to get his driver's licence, he wants to continue coaching soccer all very normal things," Ms Manning said.
"He would also like to one day be able to work again in teaching at university he was a lecturer at a university in Algeria teaching religious studies so he wants to work towards that with his English."
Green Party MP Keith Locke, a long-time supporter of Mr Zaoui, was delighted by the decision.
"Ahmed Zaoui's success benefits the civil liberties of all New Zealanders, by making the Government more accountable as to who it labels a 'security threat'. The so-called 'war on terror' has given too much power to the executive arm of government," he said.
"It should be kept in mind that Ahmed's legal team were initially - and shamefully - denied access to the allegations against him. The Zaoui lawyers were only able to expose the shabbiness of the SIS case because they fought and won in court the right to a summary of the SIS evidence. Forced to show its hand, the SIS scoured the world for further evidence to discredit Ahmed, and finally fronted up only in July this year - at which point, the SIS case fell apart."
- With NZPA
- The Dominion Post
Decide what news you want to receive when it suits you
Keep up with the latest news by making us your homepage
What do the stars have in store for you today?
Test your mind with our puzzles
The Little Things, Dilbert, Tom Scott and others