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Bill Ralston: What the Govt should do about Kiwi jihadist Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor. Photo/Supplied

The Kiwi jihadist who joined Isis probably no longer thinks it was such a good idea.

As I write, New Zealander Mark Taylor is in a Kurdish prison reportedly somewhere in war-torn Syria. By the time you read this, anything may have happened to him. I cannot imagine Kurdish jails are entirely pleasant.

It is a pity he never contemplated this outcome when he raced off to join Isis forces five years ago, but I am not sure foresight or even deep thought are among Taylor’s intellectual endowments. Surely, I thought, he would have recoiled in horror and fled after he noticed Isis was cutting off people’s heads and keeping women as slaves.

Instead, he stayed, and posed in a photo with a rifle and an implement that looks well suited to beheadings.

Oh, and one of his biggest regrets, he told an Australian film crew, was that he did not have enough cash to buy a slave for himself.

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Anyone who has read of the Yazidi women captured, raped, beaten and enslaved by Isis might be aghast at his cruelty in even contemplating that thought.

Taylor left his Isis comrades because, he said, life had become unendurable. That is because the Islamic State has, thankfully, been smashed by its opponents, and I guess Taylor, lacking food, surrendered to the Kurds. He now expects to return home to New Zealand.

This comes after he burnt his passport a few years back and urged Kiwi jihadists to commit terrorist acts here, suggesting they stab soldiers and police. He wants to come home even though he accepts he may face a couple of years in jail. Chances are that’s a more attractive option than his present lodgings.

The Government has adopted a “nothing to see here” approach, basically saying, “Gosh, Syria is a war zone, we have no representation there, it’s very dangerous, so if Mr Taylor wants to go to Turkey instead and contact one of our diplomats there, we’ll see what can be done.”

I am not so sure that Taylor can wave goodbye to his Kurdish captors and trudge off across the desert to distant Istanbul or Ankara. Listening to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in an interview about him, I gained the impression that this country has washed its hands of the jihadist, who, frankly, looks more like a bewildered hobbit than a fiery fundamentalist warrior.

An interview I have heard with Taylor makes it clear he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I expect his school reports were cluttered with such words as “easily led”, borne out, you might say, by his willingness to join Isis.

At one point when he was with the terror organisation, he forgot to turn off the geo-locator on his mobile phone as he used Twitter to exhort fellow jihadists to action, thus identifying his unit’s position.

The Government has said it is not willing to endanger its people trying to get him out of Syria. Oddly, however, he is reported as saying he has met New Zealand intelligence staff over there.

Whoever they were, my advice to the Government is to send them back, take Taylor by the ear and bring him home to a nice warm non-Kurdish prison cell.

This article was first published in the March 16, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.