10 Jun 2014

NZ man believed dead alive in US

5:14 pm on 10 June 2014

A New Zealander who has fought in Syria and widely assumed to be dead has turned up alive and well in the United States.

Weiming Chen is a Chinese-born sculptor who holds a New Zealand passport. Recent photos have shown him supposedly in Syria, holding an assault rifle.

His nephew, Alexander Karsten-Chou, said the family received word on Monday that he was back in America.

Mr Chou said his uncle feels very strongly about the anti-communist cause, which is what drew him to Syria.

"Because the Chinese government has been supporting the Syrian government he wants to show that there are Chinese people out there who do support democracy and freedom."

Mr Chou said he doesn't know when his uncle will return to New Zealand from the US.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key says Weiming Chen is not the person he was referring to when he suggested on Tuesday that a New Zealander had been killed in Syria.

Mr Key said he won't reveal details of individuals, but has been made aware of the possibility that a New Zealander may have been killed fighting in Syria. However, he has no confirmation of the death.

John Key has previously said there were a small number of New Zealanders who had fought with the rebels in Syria, and that a handful wanting to travel to Syria had been stopped at the border or had their passports cancelled.

A Syrian government representative at the United Nations on Sunday said a New Zealander had died fighting as a terrorist in Syria and it had provided consular support in relation to the case.

Journalist Jon Stephenson, who reports on Middle East issues, says people have had their passports seized before they could get to Syria, including three young Auckland men in their twenties.

Syrian forces patrol a street in the town of Zara during fighting against rebels.

Syrian forces patrol a street in the town of Zara during fighting against rebels. Photo: AFP

Amnesty to include foreigners

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has announced a wide-ranging amnesty for people accused of various forms of rebellion or terrorism, less than a week after he was re-elected to another seven-year term.

In a decree published by state media, Mr Assad commuted some death sentences to life imprisonment, reduced jail terms for many offences and cancelled some others altogether.

Foreigners who entered the country to "join a terrorist group or perpetrate a terrorist act" would receive an amnesty if they surrendered to authorities within a month.

Mr Assad also offered amnesty for people who plotted to carry out any crime listed under Syrian anti-terrorism law, and people accused of inciting armed rebellion or "weakening national sentiment".