WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand man who joined the Islamic State group has been captured in Syria and told journalists he regrets not being able to afford a slave and expects to return home.
Mark Taylor is among a half-dozen or so New Zealanders thought to have joined the militant group. He remains a citizen, but New Zealand officials say his detention abroad and apparent lack of travel documents are obstacles to his return and he may face legal consequences for his actions.
Known by the Twitter handle “Kiwi Jihadi,” Taylor notoriously forgot to turn off Twitter’s geotagging function in 2014, alerting outsiders to the location of Islamic State fighters.
Taylor told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from a Kurdish prison that after five years with the Islamic State, he fled in December and surrendered to Kurdish forces because life had become unbearable. He said there was no food or money and basic services had collapsed.
Taylor said he wasn’t a fighter and instead worked for the group as a guard on the border between the Islamic State and Syrian government forces. He said he was jailed three times by Islamic State, including once for 50 days over the geotagging incident.
He said he witnessed beheadings and executions.
“They had a lady they took out of a truck and shot her in the back of the head,” Taylor told the ABC. “There was a big crowd gathering around. I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ but no one answered.”
Taylor said he regretted not being able to afford a Yazidi slave. The Islamic State took thousands of Yazidi women and girls as sex slaves, viewing female members of the religious minority as heretics worthy of subjugation and rape.
“To buy a slave, you’re looking at least $4,000 American to buy an older woman, at least past 50 years old,” he told ABC. “And to buy a decent one, at least (US) $10,000 or $20,000.”
Taylor said he got stuck being married to two Syrian women, and that neither relationship worked out.
He told the ABC that he would be surprised if New Zealand did not take him back, although he expected he’d be spending a couple of years in jail back home.
“I’m sorry for causing too much trouble and being a bit hot-headed and flamboyant in my approach . I don’t know if I can go back to New Zealand, but at the end of the day it’s really something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”
Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said Monday that Taylor’s actions in joining Islamic State and traveling to Syria created potential legal consequences for him if he does manage to return.
She said New Zealand had plans in place for any Islamic State fighters that might return. “The safety of New Zealand and New Zealanders is our priority,” she said.
In 2015, Taylor posted a video calling on Islamic State supporters in New Zealand and Australia to commit terrorist acts at home, “even if it means you have to stab a few police officers or soldiers.”
The Department of Internal Affairs said Taylor does not appear to have a valid New Zealand passport or travel documents, and Ardern noted that obtaining the documents “in his current situation will be difficult to do.” But, she added, Taylor remained a New Zealand citizen and had rights under international law.
Before he left New Zealand, Taylor, who is in his mid-40s, told television network TV3 that he had been lonely his whole life, and that he’d been used and abused by people.
Taylor, who also goes by the names Muhammad Daniel and Abu Abdul-Rahman, acknowledged listening to the sermons of the late U.S.-born al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
In 2015, New Zealand mosque elder Mustafa Farouk told The Associated Press that when Taylor arrived in Hamilton, they allowed him to park the old truck he lived in near the mosque and offered to find him accommodation and mental-health services. But he said Taylor wanted to remain independent and declined their offers.
If Taylor had radical thoughts, Farouk said, he kept them to himself.
“The only thing he ever talked about was wanting to get married,” Farouk told the AP. “He didn’t seem like he could pose any danger to anyone at all. More that he might need someone to look after him, really.”