The New Zealand jihadist Mark Taylor, who reached infamy as the “bumbling jihadi,” was captured by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and is held in a prison in northeastern Syria. He could potentially be deported to New Zealand and face trial.
Dubbed the Kiwi Jihadi, he became known as “bumbling” after he “used social media, including appearing in a 2015 Isis propaganda video, to encourage terrorist attacks in Australia and New Zealand”, according to the US State Department. He appeared in a YouTube video telling followers to “commence your operations, even if it means you have to stab a few police officers, soldiers on Anzac Day and so be it.”
He also angered his ISIS commanders after posting tweets with the location on, revealing the secret locations of the terrorist enclave he was in.
New Zealander ISIS fighter accidentally tweets secret location http://t.co/F8YVF1tcTv
— TIME (@TIME) January 2, 2015
In December 2018, he surrendered to SDF because life as a terrorist had become unbearable.
“There was no food, no money, basic services were pretty much collapsed. I was in a pickle myself and had to make a final decision, which was to leave,” Taylor said.
“That was a hard decision to call, because people were telling me ‘you can’t leave, you came here for the sake of Allah, you came here to die’.”
He lived with ISIS for 5 years, but only as a guard, not a fighter.
“I was helping to guard a border between the Syrian Government and the Islamic State,” he said. There’s a difference between fighting and guarding. Guarding you don’t need to plan anything; attacking you need to make preparations. Every two hours on a 24-hour basis, you have to guard a particular area.”
Taylor also complained that life with ISIS was not at all what he expected. He was jailed 3 times by ISIS’ secret police.
“I had [become] more resentful towards the security of the Islamic State more than anything else. I was threatened with torture and jailed on suspicion of being a spy,” he said. “The last time was quite ridiculous. I was accused of drinking and making alcohol and smoking hashish.”
When in October 2015 he revealed the secret location of the ISIS base by not turning off geotagging function on his device. He was jailed for 50 days following the incident.
“The Twitter account got suspended, and on the ninth of January 2015 I was given a letter by one of the officials and told to have a meeting,” he said. “They took me into a room, took my weapon off me and anything else, like my mobile phone, which I never see again, and say ‘you’re under suspicion for 12 GPS locations around the Islamic State’.”
He was also witness to numerous executions and beheadings in his time with ISIS:
“They had a lady they took out of a truck and shot her in the back of the head. There was a big crowd gathering around. I asked, ‘what’s going on?’ but no-one answered,” he said. “The other time I was living in Soussa, they had someone crucified with a sign around his neck, but I didn’t know [what it read]. I couldn’t understand the Arabic. Anyone that spoke openly against the oppression ends up going to jail or getting their head cut off.”
He also claimed to have come across several Australians, in addition to Neil Prakash who got stripped of his citizenship in late December.
“I come across him when I was in Raqqa. He was making a video with the head of Islamic [State] media and asked me to be a stand in, so I was just sitting there for 10 minutes, but I was only in it for about a second. He told me he had health problems, he had kidney stones.”
One of the biggest regrets Taylor had was that he was too poor to afford a female slave:
“I would have like to have one, but I never got to,” he said. “To buy a slave, you’re looking at least 4,000 American ($5,625) to buy an older woman, at least past 50 years old. And to buy a decent one, at least [US] $10,000 or $20,000. They range from prices from [US] $4,000 up to $50,000, and I didn’t have that kind of money just to throw around myself. I was too poor.”
According to him, owning a slave meant he could do whatever he pleased, and he didn’t really mind that the women were taken forcible as slaves.
“It’s not my concern because, as I said, to buy a lady it costs money,” he said. “I would go to the masjid (mosque) and someone would say, ‘I bought a slave for [US] $5,000, $10,000’, and I thought I’d like to have that kind of money myself, but I never had the chance, so I stuck to being married to a Syrian lady.”
He also had two wives while he lived with ISIS. Both of them Syrian, and they apparently wanted to rid themselves of him.
“I was married to one Syrian lady from Deir Ezzor. Her name is Umm Mohammed. She begged me to leave and go to Idlib, then onto Turkey,” he said. “One month after that I married another Syrian woman who was pro-Islamic State — much younger lady — but I divorced her. She didn’t want to stay in my house; she wanted to move to another area and be close to her friends, not her husband. I had to explain to her on several occasions that she had to stay home and obey her husband.”
Taylor also said that he would be surprised if New Zealand did not take him back.
If they do take me back, most probably I’ll be spending a couple of years in jail,” he said.
He also wanted to apologize to his country:
“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.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern said of the case that New Zealand “has an obligation not to make people stateless,” however she also added, “He would need to make his own way to a country where New Zealand has consular representation — something that, in his current situation, will be difficult to do.”
“All New Zealand citizens have rights under international and domestic law. Mr Taylor only holds New Zealand citizenship. As I’ve said before, any New Zealander suspected of association with terrorist groups should expect to be investigated under New Zealand law should they return.”