November 14, 2008
Heat in the kitchen
Migrant chefs exposed as members of terrorist group
In an Auckland restaurant today, a young Muslim man works as a chef, and may be on the verge of getting permanent residency. But this man is not just anybody. He's undergone terrorist training with a major Islamic terror group, and arrived in New Zealand on false documents. The authorities know this. So why is he still here? IAN WISHART has the exclusive investigation
PULL QUOTE: "The letter, now in the hands of both Investigate magazine and the Security Intelligence Service, disclosed that Anwar and Rehman's relatives were all involved with an Islamic terror organization called Lashkar e Taiba, and the tone of the letter suggested both of Chaudhry's houseguests were likewise, active members of the banned organization."
Members of one of the world's largest Islamic terrorist groups have successfully infiltrated New Zealand and been instructed to set up support networks here, despite being banned under New Zealand's Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. Even more embarrassing for the Government, Investigate has obtained documents and statements from within the NZ Islamic community that show a man given military training at a terrorist base on the Afghan border continues to work here on an official work permit, despite evidence that he provided false information on his immigration application five years ago – and despite the New Zealand Government being alerted three years ago.
The terrorist organization is called Lashkar e Taiba (prounced "Lashkari Tiber"), which means "Army of the Righteous" in the Urdu language of Pakistan. Its members, believed to number well into the thousands, are trained in hundreds of madrassas, or hardline Islamic religious schools, scattered throughout Pakistan and the Afghan border regions, and collectively they make it one of the largest terror organizations affiliated to Osama bin Laden's al Qa'ida network.
The documents obtained by Investigate show a Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) group in Pakistan urging followers to set up support networks in New Zealand, even though the organization is banned worldwide and as part of this country's anti-terrorism laws. Across the Tasman, Australian authorities arrested and prosecuted a 22 year old Muslim medical student who had attended an LeT terror training camp in Pakistan, but here in New Zealand one of the group's members who attended the same camp has instead been given an extension to his work permit.
In a moment we'll tell you more about who the man is, where he works and what the evidence is. But first, some background
To understand the significance of this story, and the ramifications for NZ security that these men have been able to enter the country legally, albeit using false documents, you first need to know a little bit of history about the LeT.
The group has been caught donkey-deep in some of the terrorist plots uncovered in Australia in recent years, as journalist Kaushik Kapisthalam noted on Australia's Crikey.com.au news-site.
"When it comes to the common terrorist thread between Willie Brigitte, Izhar-ul-Haque, David Hicks and Faheem Lodhi, Australians constantly hear the name "Lashkar-e-Taiba" (LeT) bandied about. Given the preponderance of LeT connections to terror plans within Australia therefore, it is critical that Australians understand the origins and activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba. To begin with, one must be disabused of the notion that the LeT is a "Kashmiri" group. It is not.
"The LeT was founded in Pakistan and is made up of mostly Pakistani Punjabis with a smattering of Afghans, Arabs, Bangladeshis, South East Asians and the occasional Western or Indian Muslim recruit. To understand the LeT, it is critical to appreciate its position in the Pakistani as well as the global jihadist movement.
"The LeT led Ahle-Hadith movement has traditionally stayed apolitical and instead focused on its main goal - the dream of establishing an Islamic Caliphate that stretches from Indonesia to Morocco, including Northern Australia by means of a violent jihad.
"Due to its eschewing of political confrontation with the Pakistani army and thanks to the strength of its ties to Saudi Arabia the LeT steadily grew in to one of the largest and most capable jihadist groups in Pakistan, despite the relatively small size of the Ahle Hadith followers in that nation. Even though the LeT elects not to take part in politics, it does have an unarmed wing, the Markaz Da'wa wal-Irshad (MDI) or "Centre for Religious Learning and Social Welfare". At the inspiration and by some accounts seed money from Osama bin Laden, Pakistani Salafists Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed of the University of Engineering and Technology of Lahore, founded the MDI in 1987. One of the other founding fathers of the MDI was Palestinian promoter and scholar of jihad Abdullah Azzam of the Muslim Brotherhood. Azzam was also one of the inspirations behind the creation of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Many consider Azzam the "Godfather" of the modern jihadist movements. Azzam was in fact the religious and political mentor of Osama Bin Laden and the inspiration behind the "Arab-Afghan" phenomenon of international, particularly Arab volunteers hijacking local conflicts involving Muslims in the name of Islam and turning them into a part of a global jihad. To this day, Lashkar uses Azzam's speeches and publications to train and motivate its cadres. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Lashkar-e-Taiba, before it renamed itself "Jamaat-ud-Dawa"(JuD) in 2002, linked on its website to the Hamas official website and the then English mouthpiece of al Qaeda, Azzam.com. Before Israeli forces killed him, Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin routinely addressed LeT rallies in Pakistan through phone. It is to be noted that Hafiz Mohammad Saeed became the supreme leader or the "Emir" of the LeT following Azzam's death.
"The 190 acres large headquarters of the MDI/LeT is located in the town of Muridke, about 45 kilometres from Lahore. Its vast campus contains a huge mosque for the construction of which Osama bin Laden had reportedly contributed 10 million Pakistani Rupees, along with a garment factory, an iron foundry; a wood works factory, a swimming pool and three residential colonies for the volunteers. During the days of the US-Saudi funded jihad in Afghanistan to drive out the Soviets, the MDI was allowed its LeT volunteers to fight along with the Afghan Mujahideen. The Muridke campus also served as a base camp for Arab fighters to rest and recuperate and even train for jihad.
"Reports say that Bin Laden also paid for the construction of a lavish and secure guesthouse in the LeT's Muridke campus. Other than staying in the guesthouse occasionally, Bin Laden also used to chair LeT's annual conclaves. After he became a global fugitive in the early to mid 1990s, Bin Laden preferred not to stay in the Muridke guesthouse due to security concerns. While Osama bin Laden stopped attending LeT's annual moots, he has addressed them over the phone until a few years ago from his hideout in the Sudan and, since after 1996 from Afghanistan. Addressing the November 1997 LeT annual meeting on the phone from Kandahar, bin Laden reportedly said: "Those who oppose jihad are not true Muslims." The LeT like other Pakistani jihadist groups also benefited greatly from Al Qaeda training at its camps in Afghanistan. In those camps, LeT fighters gained access to suicide bombing techniques, learned how to build large truck bombs that could destroy reinforced concrete structures, how to conduct surveillance on targets without being noticed, how to plan for spectacular operations covertly etc.
"To finance its day-to-day activities, the LeT leverages its contacts in Saudi Arabia as well as launches donation campaigns with overseas Pakistanis, especially middle class and wealthy Punjabis in Britain, Australia and the Middle East. According to Jane's Terrorism & Insurgency Centre, Osama bin Laden has also financed LeT activities until recently. The LeT, under its new name JuD, uses its outreach networks including schools, social service groups and religious publications to attract and brainwash recruits for jihad in Kashmir and other places.
"While LeT apologists try to use its connection to Kashmir to palm it off as a "Kashmiri freedom fighter" group, the reality is that it has always used brutal terrorist tactics in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. LeT members have perpetrated and even claimed responsibility for scores of attacks on Hindu pilgrims, temples and innocent farmers. In fact, the LeT boldly claimed responsibility for a May 2002 attack on the wives and children of Indian troops at a time of war-like situation between India and Pakistan. European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten noted at that time that he was repulsed by the sheer savagery of the attack where sleeping infants were machine-gunned to death at close range. Despite this, the LeT openly praised the attack and glorified it on its website."
So that, then, is just one brief article on LeT. There are thousands more on the internet, including reports that some of the July 7 bombers in London may have trained at LeT camps.
How could an organization so prominent on the War on Terror hit-list manage to slip past New Zealand intelligence and immigration agencies (again)? Our story begins in late 2001, when a Waikato businessman traveled to Pakistan seeking staff for his restaurant. The man, a moderate Muslim and prominent community leader named Javed Chaudhry, wanted an unmarried chef. The man who responded was Muhammad Anwar, a cook from Pakistan who needed an employer to sponsor his immigration to New Zealand. While the businessman sorted out the paperwork, Anwar arranged for a 'friend', Jameel ur Rehman, to be hired as a cook as well. Rehman, in fact, was Anwar's cousin.
Both men arrived in New Zealand in early 2002 to start work at the restaurant, and initially they lived with the businessman and his family.
But it was only a matter of time before the first hint of trouble, says Chaudhry.
"Anwar came to me one day, and said he had been having sleepless nights because he needed to tell me something. He said, 'I did not tell you the truth back in Pakistan. I have a wife and two children. I am sorry'.
"I was very shaken, because I had had to turn away many good chefs who applied for the jobs for the very same reason. I didn't want a married person because the job in New Zealand was for years, and I did not believe it was ethical to separate a man from his wife and children for several years.
"So I told Anwar he had broken my trust and would have to work hard to regain it."
Despite coming clean to his boss about the lie, Muhammad Anwar did not come clean to the New Zealand immigration authorities, and in a 2004 document applying for a work permit extension he again ticked the "never married" box.
It was during this time that the restaurant owner became more suspicious, after stumbling across a letter addressed to both Anwar and Jameel ur Rehman.
The letter, now in the hands of both Investigate magazine and the Security Intelligence Service, disclosed that Anwar and Rehman's relatives were all involved with an Islamic terror organization called Lashkar e Taiba, and the tone of the letter suggested both of Chaudhry's houseguests were likewise, active members of the banned organization.
This is what we now know in hindsight – at the time the name of the terror organization meant little to the businessman; it was the paramilitary hardline Islamist references he was picking up on. Initially, it was not enough to tip his hand in favour of calling NZ authorities, but it was enough for him to start keeping his ears and eyes open.
While Anwar was applying for an extension to his work permit in 2004, the businessman made a visit to Pakistan, armed with a video recorder. He managed to track down Anwar's wife and children, along with other details linking him back to the terror organization. On his return to New Zealand he faced the issue of whether to keep Anwar on, but in July contacted the NZ Immigration Service (NZIS) and alerted them to the false information in the work permit application, and the terror links. Chaudhry asked NZIS whether they could cut the 12 month extension to just five months which – when backdated to the 17 March 2004 permit expiry – meant that Chaudhry could effectively give Anwar four week's notice for a departure on 16 August.
Three days later, NZIS spoke to Chaudhry by phone, advising him to immediately "withdraw the offer of employment". This, explained NZIS, would have the effect of cancelling the work permit forthwith, allowing Anwar to be deported.
So the next night he told Anwar to leave.
Naturally, Anwar wasn't happy.
"Mr Anwar, after losing his job, has become more violent and troublesome towards us," complained Chaudhry in a further letter to NZIS. "He is pressuring us not only by himself, but also through his friends. On Monday 26 July 2004 at about 10pm his friend Mr Awaiz rang me and told me that he is coming to see me at the restaurant and that I should wait for him there.
"There, he demanded for Mr Anwar's passport and claimed [that] Mr Anwar has told him that he does not fear immigration for the possibility of being deported, but rather 'he promises to bring harm to you, your family and your company through any possible means'."
The passport, incidentally, had been sent to Immigration back in March as part of the work-permit extension process. Chaudhry didn't have it.
A couple of days later, the restaurant was broken into and money taken from the till, and the following day an egg was thrown at the front window while a female staff member was setting tables. The police were called in regard to both incidents, but naturally had no hard proof of Anwar's involvement.
Anwar meanwhile had fled his flat, and was staying with another Pakistani immigrant, Sajjad Ali. According to Chaudhry, Anwar was being hidden by local Pakistanis, many of whom hailed from the same lawless North West Province of Pakistan as Anwar and Rehman.
Within weeks, Anwar was in Auckland, working in the restaurant of another Pakistani businessman. Chaudhry found out via his own contacts in the community and secretly videotaped Anwar there, sending a copy to Immigration. He also passed on the text of a conversation with Shahid Azad, the President of the Pakistan Association of New Zealand (PANZ).
According to the documents sent to Immigration in September 2004, Azad admitted harbouring Anwar and arranging work for him at the Salatine restaurant in Hunter's Corner, Auckland, despite the fact that Anwar was wanted by the authorities.
You would think that Immigration, knowing where Anwar was working, would move swiftly to deport him. But no, the wheels of the deportation appeal process turn slowly. Another letter sent in May 2005 records "that Mr Muhammad Anwar is still working at the Salatine…he keeps changing his appearance. Currently he is clean shaved and having moustache," wrote Chaudhry.
It took nearly a year, along with a series of cat and mouse police raids on houses in Auckland suspected of harbouring Anwar, before he was finally deported. One of those houses allegedly belonged to the then-head of the Pakistan Association of New Zealand, Shahid Azad.
One of the association executive told Chaudhry that members of the Pakistan Association held an emergency meeting to decide whether the Pakistani community should co-operate with the police investigation into Anwar.
"As if they had a choice," mutters Javed Chaudhry to Investigate. "I told my colleagues that this was a matter of national security and that we owed allegiance to our new country, New Zealand. Instead, some other people in the Pakistani community here took a different view and began slandering my name."
Rather than see Anwar as a threat to New Zealand security because of his extremist Islamic views and membership of a terror organization, local Pakistanis commenced a whispering campaign against the businessman, accusing him of being a bad employer and slave-labourer. Whilst it was true he had failed to pay the correct holiday wages, that didn't make him Genghis Khan. And even if he were New Zealand's worst employer, it would not change the fact that two men were in the country with proven connections to terrorism, and who had lied on the official NZ immigration forms in order to get in.
Nor did it change the reality that at least one of the men nursed ambitions of bringing the rest of his family, including extremist Islamic preachers and fellow members of LeT, out to New Zealand if he could gain residency. That man, Jameel ur Rehman, remains in New Zealand today and still has a work permit.
So what do we know of Rehman?
A letter from Anwar's sister (and Rehman's cousin) Nasreen to the men in 2002 told how the family had again attended the "itjema", or annual gathering of Lashkar e Taiba, a gathering that called in members from overseas as well. Nasreen wondered whether any NZ supporters of LeT had traveled back for the meetings. According to translations supplied to the Police, Nasreen mentioned the names of several of the family members attending, including Rehman's mother Zubaida.
By way of independent corroboration, the website globalterroralert.com describes LeT's "Annual Mujahideen Conference in Pakistan. The conference was held, according to the militant group, 'to acquaint our brothers and sisters of the current situation [state] of Jihad'."
In a second letter, a relative named Saeed Ahmad asks whether there is any representative of LeT in New Zealand, then notes that Anwar's father (also Rehman's uncle) wants both young men to establish "Lashkar e Taiba in New Zealand", by "making introductions" and extending "invitations" for local Muslims to join the group.
The Waikato restaurateur, already suspicious, was shocked to discover Rehman and Anwar had been discussing the need for young Muslims to complete military "jihad" with the businessman's teenaged sons, regaling them with stories of "training camps" in remote regions.
"He told me," one of the teenagers swore on oath in a High Court statutory declaration about Rehman, "that while studying at a madrassa, he received three months' training in a training camp in Shinkiari, and said that he fully supported what the terrorist organization and Osama bin Laden are doing.
"As he described the training to me, he mentioned that he learned to use firearms and had to survive in the forest for 1 week alone, and using the training that he had been taught…"
Another son, in his statutory declaration for the authorities, wrote:
"He has mentioned that his family are great supporters of this organization and that many of his brothers have attained training there, with one of his brothers reaching the commando stage. He mentioned that the training included the use of firearms and explosives."
Now, here's an interesting piece of corroboration. Note that comment above that Rehman trained at an LeT terrorist camp in Shinkiari, in the infamous North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. That statutory declaration was sworn in 2005. Here's a news report from the Times of India published on May 14 this year, 2007:
"Over 50 terrorist camps active in Pak: LeT chief
NEW DELHI: When pushed against the wall by a battery of reporters in Islamabad on Sunday, Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Sayeed blurted out the truth about the existence of terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil and his resolve to carry on jihad to its logical conclusion — a fact which contradicts the stand taken by the Musharraf regime and something former PoK [Pakistani Kashmir province] president Abdul Qayyum had vehemently denied during his recent visit to India.
"Lashkar's admission supports claims made by India that terrorist camps are still operational in Pakistan. Sources said over 50 camps are active in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and in parts of Northern Areas — at least half of which are new camps set up in the past six months with fresh recruits.
"According to intelligence received here and based on questioning of some captured militants, India has prepared a dossier of camps operational in different parts of Pakistan. The intelligence assessment says that while 10-12 new camps have been set up in different parts of Pakistan, including areas around Rawalpindi and Lahore, almost a similar number of old camps are already in existence.
"Cadres associated with LeT and Hizbul Mujahideen outnumber all other outfits, about a dozen of whom operate out of PoK and Pakistan. Among the prominent outfits having substantial presence include Tehrik-ul Jihad Islami, Tehrik-e-Jehad Islami, HUJI, Al Badar and Al Jihad, besides LeT and HuM.
"Sources said most of the camps have mixed cadre strength where militants associated with different outfits are trained together.
"Some of these camps are situated in Shinkiari and Jungle Mungle in Manshera and Attarshisha area of NWFP; Talegam in Rawalpindi and Raiwind in Lahore."
Investigate found some more corroboration – from statements taken from LeT's own website back in 2000.
"Lashkar e Taiba correspondent Abdullah Muntazir said jihad has been raised not only in Jammun and Kashmir but also in the whole world…In our Jihad Camp we impart training for three weeks in which newcomers are introduced to the Kalashnikov up to the Missile.
"Following this, there comes the Special Tour comprising of three months in which they are trained for Guerilla war and mine blast, fighting and firing the missiles and rockets.
"He said after this practice some of the boys are selected for specialization in making remote control bombs and missiles."
This is the camp Jameel ur Rehman boasted of taking part in, and which his family indicated on video that he had been on.
Investigate magazine rang the NZ Immigration Service to enquire about Jameel ur Rehman, the LeT terror-trainee. NZIS confirmed Rehman was still living in New Zealand, and still has a valid work permit. The question that has to be asked, given the documents obtained by Investigate, and given the way far less sinister Iranian Christians are being booted out of NZ, is "Why?"
Letters sent to Rehman in New Zealand from friends in Pakistan reveal a number of his associates, including "mujahedin" Hafiz Sahib and Ali Watto, were in jail at the time of writing. Watto, when he got out, himself wrote a letter to Rehman where he posed the question, "Whose gunman will I be? If anyone, friend, comes without praying then on gunpoint I will get them to pray".
So that's how Rehman's friends talk.
Other friends of Rehman have been killed. An entry in his diary, obtained by Investigate, reads: "35 kilometres away from Bahawalnagar, a village east of Haripur; by word of mouth from Imran: Deceased, Mr Yaser, Mr Tahir, Mr Aslam, Mr Mahmood and Mr Asad (Sunday 25.7.2004). Both alive friends Mr Imran and Mr Shahid."
The diary entry did not record any detail of how the five men died or why two survived. Nor does the diary entry record whether the "Mr Aslam" killed is Rehman's cousin Mr Aslam, who'd written a letter in 2002 saying, "If, after death, Allah asked me 'did you do Jihad?', then what will I reply to my Allah?"
A second letter from Aslam had recorded his attendance at the mujahedin's "itjema", or annual gathering that year.
From the documentation supplied, it appears Jameel ur Rehman and Muhammad Anwar were sending funds earned in New Zealand back to the madrassa in Satiana, Pakistan, affiliated to the Lashkar e Taiba. A letter from Rehman's brother, Atiq ur Rehman, asks him to do his "level best" to get the money through, and pages from Rehman's diary have bank account numbers alongside the names of key contacts back in Pakistan.
This, too, would be a breach of New Zealand's Terrorism Suppression Act. Section 8 of the Act provides a 14 year jail term for anyone who directly or indirectly collects funds for the benefit of an organization or entity that they know has carried out or participated in a terrorist act. Section 13 of the Act provides a 14 year jail term for anyone who participates in such a group or organization.
No one in New Zealand has ever been charged under the Act, leading the communist party front organization RAM – standing candidates in this year's local body elections and a big supporter of radical Islam – to misleadingly claim that NZ is terrorist-free. But from the evidence gathered by Investigate, it seems authorities may simply have chosen not to lay charges rather than attract public attention to the security breaches.
In one letter from Rehman back to his brother, he talks about the possibility of bringing Atiq – who'd recently trained as a madrassa teacher - over to New Zealand to teach Salafi Islamic doctrine.
"There [are not many] mosques here in New Zealand…don't worry at all, leave it to me, whenever I find an opportunity I will let you know."
Investigate has tracked down the madrassa Rehman and Anwar trained at. Its website records that it is a Salafi institute (a hardline Islamic sect), whose "ultimate goal of struggle to spread Islamic Knowledge is:
- To prepare people with Islamic Knowledge, who then without any personal motive, spread teachings of Deen-E-Islam according to Quraan and Sunnah.
- To help bring Islamic values and teachings into practice.
- Rectify Aqeedah of People by educating them with right Islamic Aqeedah.
- To fight against Bi'dah [moderate interpretations of Islam] by educating people."
The website notes that "This institute is trying its best to spread Islamic teachings in the world", and also records that one of its original teachers was a "Qaree Matee ur Rehman", back in the late 1970s.
The website also records one of its current leaders is Bashir Ahmad. In one of the letters to Jameel ur Rehman and Muhammad Anwar, Bashir Ahmad urges them to spread the Salafi doctrine in New Zealand, by "giving invitations to others".
Video footage supplied to both Investigate and security services of Jameel ur Rehman's house, back in Pakistan, features his brother proudly showing the Lashkar e Taiba propaganda posters displayed on their lounge wall – images of Kalashnikov rifles, rocket launchers, burning American flags and slogans like "This is how to treat infidels".
During the same trip that he obtained the video footage, Javed Chaudhry checked up on the credentials Rehman had supplied for his work experience. Already well aware that Rehman had been training at terror camps and in a hardline madrassa, Chaudhry wondered where he'd found the time to clock up five years working in the kitchen of the Hotel Adil, the source of the signed work reference Rehman had presented to him in order to get the job. That reference, signed by the hotel's manager, is on hotel letterhead and reads:
"This is to certify that Mr Jameel ur Rehman s/o Muhammad Ismaeel holding Passport No J947676 has been working in our Hotel as cook for Pakistani Tandoori dishes/bread making with effect from 1995 to 2000. During this period his work and conduct has been excellent. He is young, hardworking and conscientious worker. I wish him every success in his future life."
It is signed by M. Zahoor ul Haq, Proprietor, Hotel Adil International, Rawalpindi.
Naturally, Rehman's employer allowed his curiousity to get the better of him, and went to see Zahoor ul Haq.
"He said he had never heard of Jameel, and said the signature on the reference wasn't his," says Chaudhry. In other words, the reference was a fake.
But Jameel had not just used it to get the job, he'd used it also to gain entry to New Zealand on the immigration papers.
So what was Rehman doing while he was supposedly working at the Hotel Adil? In video footage provided to the NZ immigration and security services, one of Rehman's relatives, and a teacher at the Satiana madrassa tells Chaudhry the full story.
"Did he live in Rawalpindi city for five years?" asked Chaudhry.
The relative lets out a hearty laugh on camera.
"He did not live in Rawalpindi for five years, but for five years he would have lived in Saudi Arabia. After coming back from Saudi Arabia he spent some time at home and then came here [Satiana madrassa] with Atiq [his brother].
"He had lived in Saudi Arabia and had earned money in Saudi by himself…Later on I came to know that he had been selected as cook by you and when Jameel realized that it is a cook visa then he started learning cooking in a restaurant in Burewala city for about six months or a year, but I think even less than a year. However, he started learning cooking after he was selected by you for the position of cook."
In the video, the relative, a man Rehman referred to as 'uncle' but who was actually only related by marriage, was disparaging about the family.
"They are troublesome people. They are all trouble creator rather than problem solver."
Chaudhry contacted another uncle, a blood relative this time, who also confirmed on video that Jameel ur Rehman had never worked in Rawalpindi as a hotel cook.
Yet that's the document, now established as fraudulent, used to obtain a New Zealand work permit.
"I'm sure he is interested in getting permanent residence in New Zealand," says Chaudhry to Investigate, and the word in the community is that he is close to getting it approved."
After talking to others, and piecing together some of the timeframes in Rehman's letters and diary entries, Chaudhry told the NZIS that rather than working at the Hotel Adil between 1995 and 2000, the real sequence of events was this:
1995-1996: Rehman studied at the Madrassa Jamia Usman Bin Affan, in Bahawalpur, Pakistan.
1996-1998: Rehman was living and working in Saudi Arabia, including performing the Hajj pilgrimage in 1997.
1999-2001: Rehman returned to Pakistan to study at the madrassa Satiana in Faisalabad.
With all this evidence then, you'd have to again ask the question, "why is Rehman still here?" The answer appears to lie in political correctness – the Muslim extremist has played the 'victim' card.
The Waikato restaurant owner, Javed Chaudhry, admits becoming increasingly concerned about the backgrounds of his two staff during late 2002 and 2003, yet he did not approach the authorities until July 2004. During this time, his relationships with the two migrants deteriorated. The men were themselves suspicious of Chaudhry and whether he would dob them in. They knew he had read their mail and diaries. Anwar decided to shift into the garage, out of the main house, and Rehman soon followed. Despite the fact that the shift was their own choice, as even the Employment Relations Authority later noted in a decision on the case, that didn't stop the migrants spinning a tale of "slavery" to anyone who would listen.
"I did not know anybody because I was not allowed to talk [to] anyone," Jameel ur Rehman later testified at a Pakistan Association meeting. "I was not allowed to go outside of my garage where I live three and half years as prisoner with my master's car. Only the man I know, that was my Master."
That's what Rehman told the Pakistani community in New Zealand, but it conflicts with evidence he later provided to the Employment Relations hearing. He included a statement from Hamilton woman Judith Griffiths who said she'd known Rehman and Anwar since August 2002, when they'd met via an Indian student who was boarding with her.
While Rehman was telling people he was a prisoner, didn't know anyone and was not able to talk to anyone, Griffiths told the hearing something different:
"My house had a back door and yard completely hidden from the street. Jameel and Anwar would race down the side of my house to this sanctuary and knock on the kitchen door…Over time, [they made] repeated visits (sometimes at 5am)…From my home they rang home and spoke freely for the first time without Javed listening to every word."
Griffiths, incidentally, could not speak Urdu. There was no danger that she would understand anything the men were discussing on the phone, if it indeed was sensitive.
And now another claim that Rehman made to the Pakistan Association meeting:
"We were two peoples in garage. I sleep on one side of Master car and [Anwar] sleep on other side of car. There were no toilet facilities in garage and some time we have to do our 'morning' in shaper [sic] bags and dispose it in restaurant's toilets where I worked three and a half years…"
Significantly, the Employment Relations adjudicator did not believe Rehman's story in this regard.
"Having reviewed all the evidence," wrote Vicki Campbell in her judgment, "I am satisfied that the accommodation provided for Mr ur Rehman and Mr Anwar was not as it was described by the applicant and his witnesses. At the investigation meeting, Ms Griffiths accepted that she was relying on what she had been told by Mr ur Rehman about his living conditions and that she had never checked it out [our emphasis].
"It was common ground that initially Mr ur Rehman and Mr Anwar shared a sleepout and that they had access to the main house to use the bathroom and ablution facilities. After the family moved to larger accommodation, Mr ur Rehman shared a room with Mr Chaudhry's son…Mr Anwar left the family-provided accommodation for a short while and then returned. Initially Mr Anwar was sleeping in the lounge room, but then moved into the garage.
"I am satisfied that Mr ur Rehman, on his own initiative, moved into the internal garage with Mr Anwar for a period of time. During that time Mr Rehman had access to the shower [etc]…"
Another inconvenient truth that suggests Jameel ur Rehman was lying is that in November 2003 he and Anwar were left in charge of the restaurant and the house while Javed Chaudhry and his family traveled back to Pakistan for a family wedding – they did not return until February 2004. "This is hardly the action of someone keeping 'slaves'," exclaims Chaudhry.
The ERA threw out the wilder claims, but did ping Chaudhry for failing to include the Holidays Act in his pay calculations. Nonetheless, the ERA did make a number of wildly politically correct findings of its own. It suggested the "search of Mr ur Rehman's personal belongings in his flat and the reading of personal mail and diaries" amounted to a "breach" of the Employment Relations Act.
Never mind the fact that the correspondence disclosed affiliation to a major international terrorist organization. Even alleged supporters of Islamic terror groups have rights under the Employment Relations Act that trump national security concerns, according to the ERA.
For the record, the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council have long-established rulings that "there is no confidence in iniquity", meaning that anything containing evidence of illegality or a security threat automatically loses any privacy protections. Chaudhry was acting within the law in keeping an eye on the correspondence, despite what employment law might say.
Chaudhry was also criticized by the Employment Authority for notifying New Zealand Immigration Service of the terror allegations. This, too, said adjudicator Vicki Campbell, was a breach of Rehman's rights as an employee.
Chaudhry, for his part, admits to being torn as a businessman between the need to keep his restaurant running (and sacking his two chefs was not going to be helpful) and the need to advise the government of the security risks. This was one of the reasons it took some time to come forward. And even after he blew the whistle on Muhammad Anwar, he did not approach police about Rehman until 12 months later – again, coinciding with the renewal point of his work permit.
In the Employment Relations Authority hearing, Chaudhry's critics argued the decision to dob in the men had more to do with a revenge strike over Anwar and Rehman's political lobbying within the Pakistani community against Chaudhry – and the employment allegations - than national security.
Chaudhry, on the other hand, says it was simply the result of the working relationship deteriorating, and the reality that the men could apply to work for another employer who did not know their backgrounds.
It would be fair to say Chaudhry was, however, surprised at the level of political lobbying the men managed to do. They quickly found heavyweight support within the Pakistan Association of New Zealand – some of whose members originate from the same areas and with similar views to Anwar and Rehman. Chaudhry is incensed that Rehman was wheeled into a PANZ AGM to spin what the employment adjudicator later ruled was a false story about his treatment at the hands of Chaudhry, without PANZ giving Chaudhry a hearing on the matter.
Chaudhry points to his own background as an Executive Member, Vice President and Treasurer in the Executive Committee of the Manawatu Muslim Association, Palmerston North, between 1995 and 2001. At the end of 2001 he and his family moved to Hamilton, where they've been involved in community initiatives through the city council and the Pakistan Kiwi Friendship Association of New Zealand, which Chaudhry founded three years ago.
"Like any other normal Muslim," he says, "I am also against extremism and terrorism and very much concerned about the security and prosperity of my country of origin, Pakistan, and country of adoption, New Zealand."
The bottom line, he argues, is that Anwar and Rehman have clear uncontested links to Lashkar e Taiba, and hardline Islamic fundamentalist madrassas, coupled with their entry to New Zealand on false documents.
Contrast the liberties extended to Jameel ur Rehman, with the case of Iranian Christian convert and hunger striker Ali Panah – now facing deportation because the Government doesn't believe his conversion to Christianity is genuine. As more than one critic of the government's position has pointed out, what would Labour MPs know about Christianity?
Regardless, here's how Victoria University's Salient newspaper described the arrest of Ali Panah once his refugee appeal was lost:
"[Panah's former boss Bruce] Keane says Panah moved from Iran to South Korea more than five years ago. While working and living there, Panah converted to Christianity from Islam. "What he did is he sent his mother a tape of his baptism and it got intercepted [by Iranian authorities], so in his absence he was sentenced to death." Panah has never returned to Iran to appeal the charges.
"Keane recalls the day Panah was arrested by immigration authorities. He said that while the two were working at a client's property, he received a call from the Immigration Department asking if Keane was with Panah. "I said, 'yeah, he's with me', and they said, 'keep him there, we're coming to interview him'." Keane told Panah that they needed to wait for the authorities to arrive, and hour and a half later, two police officers and one Immigration officer arrived with a police wagon. "The next thing was that his hands were up his back and he was handcuffed. People were looking from the house [the two were working at] amazed at what was going on." Completely taken by surprise, Panah was given his rights and placed inside the police wagon, which took him to an Auckland police station.
"Keane says he is appalled at how the authorities dealt with the situation. "It was just the way it was done. They didn't have to do that on private property and it was at the back of the house with people looking." Keane says he later returned to his client's home where the arrest took place to explain what had happened. "They were pretty horrified that that was what all it was about," he says.
"Keane also exclusively told Salient of Panah's first few days under police custody. On the day of his arrest, Keane says Panah had been working inside a sewer. He says he told the authorities at the time that Panah, who was saturated in waste, was a health hazard to himself and others and therefore needed a shower and a change of clothes, "but they didn't want to know", he says. "The next day, I went up to the police station and took him a pair of clothes and toiletries, and they refused to accept anything."
"Keane says three days later when Panah appeared in court, the police still hadn't offered him a shower and a change of clothes. "And in court I had to stand up and say this man would be a health hazard to everybody…" Keane says at this point, the judge present ordered the police to allow Panah a shower and a clean set of clothes.
"It's important to mention that Keane is not the typical person you would expect to find supporting an asylum seeker. But Keane says Panah isn't a typical asylum seeker. "It's crazy, our law," says Keane. "If you have a look around, most of the immigration people who come to this country are on the dole or in Housing New Zealand homes and they're getting carried by the workforce. But you get a guy who can do it and is capable of doing everything and we refuse him."
Another Iranian convert to Christianity, a mother of two, has just been jailed in Auckland this month for two years for an irregularity on her immigration papers. She had failed to mention that she also had Turkish citizenship. For lying, she has been imprisoned and separated from her two children. She lost her appeal for home detention.
Jameel ur Rehman, on the other hand, appears to have been given every assistance by the New Zealand government, despite being associated with a banned terrorist organization.
It is also ironic that the treatment meted out to Christian convert Ali Panah by an NZ government agency – being made to spend three days in sewage-encrusted clothing with no shower or change of clothes – is far worse than anything Rehman or Anwar suffered in New Zealand – or even allegedly suffered – at the hands of whistleblower Javed Chaudhry.
December 31, 2007
The Beasts of Benmore: Oct 07 issue
THE BEASTS OF BENMORE
Experts are close to confirming the existence of possibly two varieties of exotic big cats living wild in New Zealand – American mountain lions and African or Asian black leopards. Researcher IAN LUCAS and documentary-maker MARK ORTON provide two perspectives of the hunt for evidence, including the latest sightings
It was the morning of Monday the 18th of July, 1977 when Christchurch police received a startled call from concerned citizen. Mrs F Clark, a resident of Kaiapoi, rang to report she had seen a “tiger” outside the gate of her suburban home. The call was taken seriously as it was initially thought a big cat could have escaped from Orana Park Zoo. A thorough search of the area was fruitless, neither sight nor sign of any big feline eventuating. Poor Mrs Clark became the target of malicious calls, jokes were made about her, she was called a liar and worse. Redemption was forthcoming however when large pug marks and droppings were found at an isolated part of nearby Pines Beach later in the week, followed by a sighting of the elusive creature by a local farmer on the Friday afternoon.
It is unclear if Mrs Clark actually saw stripes on the cat or just used the term ‘tiger’ just to signify a very large member of the cat family .The mystery feline wasn’t to be seen again however and after a week of regular reporting, the Christchurch Press soon dropped the story-line. With what we know today however, this story would appear to be the first well-documented account of a so called ‘mystery big cat’ sighting in New Zealand.
A popular misconception is that sightings of the mysterious cats began in the mid 1990s, however research has shown this to be incorrect. Another fact, as was the case in the story just related, is that not all sightings are of black, panther type animals. Brown or tan-coloured cats resembling cougar/puma are also described.
Back in 2000 when I began researching the big cats I was fortunate to receive details of such a sighting from a gentleman who, in 1962, had been working on an orchard in the Cromwell Gorge area of Central Otago. After work one summer’s evening he faced his fears by gamely crossing the Clutha River on a rickety old flying fox. Successfully, but not without difficulty, he reached the far side and headed off towards an old miner’s cottage at the foot of a barren hillside. As he approached he became aware of a very large fawn coloured ‘puma’ just a few metres from the building. It quickly scarpered off up the slope, disappearing among rocks and wild rose bushes that grew higher up.
A Dunedin resident wrote me detailing an incident of around 1973, when she was out rabbit shooting with a friend in the back hills of Bendigo, Central Otago. The young lady states she remained as lookout, perched atop a large rock while her colleague worked the valley below. Suddenly something large and black shot out of bushes below her. It ran low and fast, had a noticeably long tail and was large enough to send the young lady running nervously to join her friend.
In 1989, two young men were driving late at night near Waitahura when they saw the distinct shape of a very large cat silhouetted in the car headlights. Around that time a gentleman travelling during day time on the road between Middlemarch and Hyde saw a large animal cross the highway further ahead. He described it as being the size of a sheepdog but with a cat’s outline and gait. Although he stopped by the pile of wood cuttings the mystery animal had disappeared into, he was wary about approaching for a closer inspection!
During the 90’s and up until the present time such sightings have become more regular, especially in the Central Otago, Canterbury regions. Several of these encounters were reported in Nov 2006 issue of Investigate by Ian Wishart in his article Close Encounters Of The Furred Kind. The Australian connection was also discussed at length however this is truly a global enigma. Sightings of similar animals have been well documented throughout the UK for decades. Older readers will recall references to the Beast of Bodmin, the Surrey Puma, the Exmoor and Basingstoke Beasts. To this day sightings are routinely being reported in Ireland and Wales in particular.
In Britain in the past 20 years, at least five mountain lions (cougars) have been either captured or shot, even close to London, and in 1988 a leopard was discovered roaming the countryside, before it too was shot.
Although less common, large cats have also been seen in mainland Europe, sightings ranging from Sweden to France. Earlier this year French authorities mounted a search for a tiger after credible positive sightings. Tigers, of course, used to roam throughout Europe but are now thought to be confined to Siberia.
Even the island of Hawaii is not exempt. A rash of sightings in 2003 led to the visit of an employee of the Arizona Fish and Game department in an effort to capture the elusive black beast. Needless to say he was not successful.
You may ask how so large an animal can survive hidden in our society today, being seen only on rare occasions. Members of the cat family can be extremely furtive, their camouflaged colouring enabling them to literally disappear into their surroundings. Lying flat to the ground completely still, you could walk within a metre of such an animal and be unaware of its presence. Proof of this was the discovery of a new breed of wild cat in Scotland. During the late ‘80’s three or four such unknown cats were shot and in 1988 one was caught in a fox trap by a gamekeeper.
Dubbed the Kellas cat, they have since been bred successfully in captivity, however they remain ferocious and extremely wary of humans. They have short jet black coats, slim bodies, long legs and muscular hind quarters. The upper jaw juts out beyond the lower and has protruding canines that are long and sharp.
The Ashburton Guardian has reported on several sightings down South. One worth mentioning was that of Jessica Sculley who in September 2006 witnessed a rare, two cat sighting. A resident of Wakanui, Jessica was delivering her two young sons to school when she noticed two very large black cats in a sheep paddock. The sheep bunched up and bolted, the sudden movement causing the cats to take off, disappearing in to a line of roadside trees. They were described as being not as large as Labradors but at least as tall as a foxy. Their gait however was described as a powerful trot rather than a lope and they had the telltale long, thick tail of other mystery black cats. Were these merely two exceedingly large feral cats?
Another Guardian article reports that in October the previous year, Mt Somer resident Mrs Andrea Thompson watched a large black cat dragging a lamb for about 20 metres, all the while being pursued by the ewe which was bleating and headbutting the would be sheepnapper! It only released its victim when Mrs Thompson yelled and screamed at it, leaping over a one metre high fence to escape.
One of the rarer, cougar type sightings was reported to have occurred in Queenstown during September 2004. Grant Carter, an Australian tourist was out on the balcony of his room at the Heritage hotel late one evening. His attention was drawn to something apparently tan-coloured walking up the scrub covered slope next to the hotel. Focussing on it, he noted it was the size of a Labrador but with the movement of a cat. Thankfully it took no notice of a passing pedestrian and disappeared in to the night.
It appears little known that there have also been a handful of big cat sightings north of Cook Strait. In October 1980 police received several reports of a large, marmalade, lion-sized animal in scrub covered farmland near Newlands, Wellington. One of the observers later retracted his statement and declared it to be just a large cat although it was invariably described by others as the size of an alsation dog.
Later, in December of 1994, Tawa resident Ross Pedlar found it difficult to believe his eyes when looking out his kitchen window early one morning. There, sitting in the branches of a nearby tree was an extremely large fawn coloured cat which he thought to be a puma! It remained there as he hurriedly phoned the police but it eventually wandered off in to nearby bush. Ross described the animal as standing as tall as a person’s shoulders. The surrounding area was searched without success by police and armed offenders. This incident was reported nationally on radio news bulletins as well as being reported in the Wellington Evening Post.
Some time around the early 1970’s two friends went to a Hawkes Bay firing range for a little target practice. Imagine their surprise when, after firing the first volley, an extremely large cat-like animal scarpered up the steep bank at the rear of the target area, disappearing in to trees on the ridge. Another couple believe they may have seen the same creature outside their residence one evening shortly after and on another occasion crossing the highway.
Other as yet unconfirmed sightings have been reported in Northland and the lower Coromandel areas.
More information, much of it previously unreported, has recently been forthcoming following the Dunedin, June premiere of a half hour documentary Prints Of Darkness. This edited version of many hours of interviewing big cat witnesses, was produced by Dunedin film maker Mark Orton and his able assistant Pip Walls. Initially a skeptic, Mark is now caught up in the excitement of the hunt for the mystery big cats although he is convinced that many of the sightings can be attributed to a breeding colony of oversized feral cats. He concedes however that there still remain a number of sightings that do not seem to fit this category. Due to public demand, another public screening of the documentary was made to a receptive audience in Ashburton in July. Mark is presently seeking funding to enable the creation of a much longer movie in which he will be able to present all the new information.
- IAN LUCAS
FURTHER INFORMATION: (BOX)
You can obtain a DVD copy of Prints Of Darkness for just $18.00 Check out Mark’s website for a preview and contact details www.printsofdarkness.co.nz
Inevitably there will be more sightings of these elusive creatures and, now that video and digital cameras are common accessories, it is hoped that more and better quality footage will eventually be forthcoming to help better identify the animals and convince the remaining sceptics of the validity of this enigma. This writer hopes that such a feline is not shot although this would be understandable if it was worrying stock. Meanwhile, the mystery remains unsolved.
You can contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org . Both myself and Investigate Magazine welcome any new information .
Prints of Darkness - The Aftermath
When reflecting on how the film Prints of Darkness evolved I will have to be honest and say that it very nearly didn’t happen in its present form. As a student searching for a documentary topic for my Post Graduate course in Natural History Filmmaking; I figured that a story detailing the eco-damage of New Zealand’s feral cats might be a little interesting, but it would need a hook. Already fascinated with strange cat sightings in The United Kingdom and Australia, I turned to our own beast of the backcountry as a possible accessory to the story. The trouble was, nobody wanted to hear about nasty little feral cats, the question I was constantly asked was “What do you think the black cat is”?
I was a little sceptical, well actually a lot sceptical, but I didn’t want to be remembered as the Buzz Aldrin of Dunedin. In other words, this was a prime opportunity to make the first documentary on this intriguing phenomenon. Furthermore, I still couldn’t shake the grainy image of a large black cat slinking through Al Kircher’s 2006 photos taken near Winterslow Station, home to some of the most credible sightings to date.
Linking up with Pip Walls as my film-partner in crime, we set about researching the story from where all good projects start, Google. It quickly transpired that not only was the available information sketchy at best, in many cases it simply didn’t fit the story that we had imagined. There was nothing else for it; we would have to immerse ourselves in the cat epicentre over the summer of 2006/7. Taking a trip down inland scenic route 72, our base became the appropriately named Panther’s Rock Tavern in Mayfield.
Our first major research pit-stop was always going to be Al Kircher’s place in Methven. In our minds, his photos are the best evidence yet that something sinister was stalking the back country. With his best Khaki’s on and the notoriously generous Mid-Canterbury hospitality that we came to rely on, Al entertained our hair-brained film idea; even the part about filming him next to the spot where the photo was taken. Little did we know what rugged country it was and that the last time Al had been out there was in a helicopter.
After four hours of Matagauri spikes, river crossings, bush crashing and shingle slides we made it to the spot and were not disappointed. From our calculations with a tape measure and a series of photos, we were able to bring some scale to the images and clarify for ourselves that the feline object in Al’s photograph was significantly larger than any cat that should, by rights, be living wild in New Zealand.
Not only did this convince us that we might be onto something, but shortly afterwards the Christchurch Press and the Ashburton Guardian ran pieces about our research and our inbox ran hot. With some maps, pins and old fashioned research tools we refined our area of interest, ‘or the crime scene’ as we referred to it and drew up a list of questions to answer.
From the exhaustive phone conversations conducted over two weeks in November 2006 a definite pattern and similarity between sightings started to emerge.
The most interesting points were:
1. Almost unanimously black in colour (but not always)
2. Almost always occurred in winter and just after a fresh snowfall.
3. The ‘Cat’ had a very long bushy ‘tubular’ tail
4. The cat moved with a long loping stride and very fast
5. Sightings were clustered over a 30 year period with records of sightings back as far as the 1920s.
Now, while there were many other details of significance that would crop up again we focused on these points and started to re-visit our catalogue of sightings with greater rigour and tighter criteria. After this process we still had 16 very credible sightings (some supported with secondary evidence) that stretched from the 1970s to August 2006. This was quite interesting as many officials that we interviewed on this subject insisted it was a recent phenomenon that only came to light in the mid-1990s.
Totally obsessed with the task at hand we ploughed through everything we could lay our hands on and some very interesting material surfaced. Way too much for the 24 minute film that we had to deliver. However, that did not stop us filming enough to elaborate on the subject if there is enough interest to warrant a longer version of the film at some stage.
After spending a lot of time talking with witnesses on the phone and then putting them in front of the camera we decided that, yes, there definitely are big cats living in the New Zealand backcountry. While it would be much more convenient to have just ‘one’ phantom cat, we had to conclude that this was simply not possible because of three major points.
1. The life span of a big cat in the wild is 15-20 years at best
2. The distance travelled for hunting or mating is huge (150-200 kilometres in a week) but we were dealing with an even bigger area than that.
3. The cats being reported were not all the same colour.
However, the fact still remained that credible people had seen something extraordinary. What was it and would the various theories, speculations and urban myths stand up to some serious interrogation?
We set about finding answers to questions that were constantly asked but never investigated.
1. We tested the escaped circus legend and found an intriguing story related to an escaped cat in the mid-80s. (never substantiated)
2. What about border control and possible illegal importations? Once again, no one is going to own up to an illegal importation though we do have on record a wildlife expert speculating on very relaxed importation conditions up to 15 years ago. Furthermore, MAF failed to provide us with a record that they supposedly keep of circus/zoo/game park animals entering or leaving N.Z.
3. We contacted workers at two defunct privately owned game parks in the South Island to get an idea of what cats they had. There were leopards, lions, jaguars and even a bobcat but no ‘black’ pumas or jaguars, the two cats that are commonly associated with the name ‘Black Panther’
4. Genetics experts were interviewed to test the theory that the cat might be a feral cat with a form of gigantism.
5. We spent time with DOC trapping feral cats to see if there was any co-relation with their work and the sightings we were testing.
6. We analysed records from the turn of the century where farmers and miners were known to import certain cats from the U.K. to help contain the rodent and emerging rabbit problem. We discovered information suggesting that bobcats and lynx were imported and that the feral cats sighted in the wild were getting so large that dogs were not game to approach them.
7. Was there enough food to sustain a big cat? Was there any evidence of fresh kills or loss of stock? The answer was yes to both questions, we managed to obtain some quite gruesome photos of mauled sheep and had noticed big numbers of rabbits/hares and birds in the areas where cat sightings had occurred.
With all this information we were dangerous, but as they say in film-making parlance, you have to ‘kill your darlings’. Certain sequences and scenes would have to remain as digital files. With limited time available to flesh out any of these issues, we concentrated on a film that would educate the lay person about the circumstances and let the viewer meet some of the ordinary people with extraordinary tales to tell. With that decision made, we could introduce the viewer to a couple of pieces of secondary evidence that we had beaten the sensationalist media to.
While interviewing Sarah and Blair Gallagher at their property in Mt Somers (the site of truck driver Chad Stewart’s very credible 2003 sighting) we discovered that Sarah had kept a sample of black hair attached to the fence that the cat had leapt over. Her efforts to discover what animal the hair had come from fell on deaf ears at MAF so we took the task on.
Similarly, just over the ridge in nearby Staveley, Hamish Bruce was in the process of building his new house when he noticed some very large freshly made paw prints with no discernable claw marks. We were keen to learn more and sent the photos overseas to two big cat experts who were guiding us. Their comments were very interesting.
Furthermore, while we were filming in Mayfield at the home of Andrea Thompson who had seen a cat attacking a lamb, we were contacted by a hunter who had seen a very large cat that had, in his own words, “put the wind up him and his hunting companions”. Seeing as he was only a short trip along the inland scenic route we made a date to meet at a local pub and have a yarn. What transpired was most interesting. Not only was the conviction in their story captivating, but their associate Ben Bell mentioned that he could remember talk in the area that there was a plan to release cougars into the Canterbury foothills to control Deer.
With our bullshit detectors now fully honed, we quickly dispatched it to the boundary. However, when reviewing the tape back in Dunedin, I decided to look through the Canterbury newspaper archives out of curiosity, and to my great surprise I discovered that Ben’s memory had in fact been spot on. While we are undoubtedly happy that the story we ended up telling has attracted a lot of positive media attention and has recently been nominated for an award at the Documentary New Zealand Film Festival, we have uncovered additional information that we are sure the public would find fascinating.
While we were in the final throws of editing, something happened that we simply couldn’t ignore. Through our new found celebrity, a Central Otago landowner found my contact details on the Internet and phoned me up to report a sighting that was possibly one of the best in terms of detail, and it gets better. Close-by, he discovered bird and sheep carcasses, claw makes on trees and posts and fresh scat. As he was new to this (I mean, who do you call when you think you have just seen a Puma?), he asked my advice. I put him in contact with MAF and sent images of the scat, claw marks and other detail overseas. The initial response from the local authorities was less than helpful, until they received the scat.
My contact in the United Kingdom confirmed that the scat and claw marks were consistent with a big cat. Furthermore, when the scat was finally analysed in New Zealand it was confirmed as cat scat and a professional hunter was dispatched to the property to see if he could gather some ‘conclusive’ evidence. Adding fuel to the speculation, the same landowner (who wishes to remain anonymous) and his wife spotted what appeared to be the same cat again.
While nothing has been shot yet, the landowner has invested in surveillance equipment to see if he can do what has yet to be done in New Zealand, capture moving images of the mysterious cat.
And still, the phone calls kept coming with further information to follow up. It would be fair to say that at this point we are worn out with the constant questions and analysis of our film topic. But, the lid simply would not fit back on the can of worms. Out of the blue a handwritten manuscript of a book detailing one man’s life tracking cats in the Waimakiriri Gorge turned up. Complete with photos and map/grid references, the detail is so astonishing that it has caused us to re-evaluate the history of Mystery Cat sightings in New Zealand. Furthermore, with flagging spirits now revived; we have the impetus to complete the process by pitching a longer version of the story to broadcasters and funding bodies. Watch this space.