The Islamic Women's Council is demanding proof New Zealand women are joining the so-called Islamic State (IS) as jihadi brides.
SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge told MPs yesterday the country was seeing, for the first time, New Zealand women travelling to IS-controlled areas in the Middle East.
"It's difficult to see what they do when they go. We definitely do have intelligence that they went. Whether they are going to fight or whether they are going to support other fighters is not clear."
Islamic Women's Council spokeperson Anjum Rahman said, without any any real evidence, the comments were unhelpful.
"The comments that are flying around are really not helpful for our community because they do induce a level of fear where perhaps it's not really justified, or at least we haven't seen evidence that it is justified at this point."
Ms Rahman said more information on the women's backgrounds and their reasons for travelling was needed.
"It's really difficult for us to have this spotlight onto our whole community when we are not aware of exactly what the issues are," she said.
Ms Kitteridge would give no specific numbers to Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee and afterwards told reporters it was a "small number... less than a dozen".
Prime Minister John Key told reporters yesterday he was aware of some cases. "There's certainly a few women that have left, engaged in these weddings effectively at the very last minute, and gone to Syria, and all of those factors would point to the fact that they're going as jihadist brides."
Social activist Tayyaba Khan, who works with Muslim and refugee communities, said it was "irresponsible" of Ms Kitteridge to brief the select committee without any supporting proof.
"That leaves so much room for interpretation in terms of what's happening and that just maligns the Muslim community even more," she said.
She also questioned why the SIS did not step in before these women left the country.
University of Auckland Islamic Studies Research Unit head Zain Ali agreed more information about the background of the women who were travelling to IS controlled areas was needed.
The timing of Ms Kitteridge's comments was interesting given the government was currently reviewing New Zealand's role in Iraq.
"I'm just wondering whether there may be an announcement coming soon about New Zealand's involvement in Iraq given this latest piece of information."
'Realistic possibility' of returning fighters
The SIS's annual report, which was tabled in Parliament this afternoon, said the total number of New Zealanders in Syria and Iraq was likely to increase in the coming year.
"We have also seen an increase in the number of females travelling to Syria/Iraq to marry jihadist fighters.
"Individuals fighting alongside ISIL [Islamic State] are recognised as posing a significant threat upon return to New Zealand or other countries.
"While we have not yet experienced a returnee fighter, there is a realistic possibility that this will occur in the near future," the report said.