Jacinda Ardern, Andrew Little: 'We're making no efforts to bring him home'

News 05/03/2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little have suggested they don't want so-called 'Kiwi Jihadi' Mark Taylor to return to New Zealand and won't help him unless they absolutely have to.

On Monday, Australian media reported Taylor, who lived with Islamic State (IS) extremists in Syria for years, had been jailed in a Kurdish prison after surrendering to local forces.

In her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Ms Ardern stressed the Government was not obligated to pay for Taylor to return to New Zealand and he could face legal action if he reached our shores.

"It is unlawful to join and fight for a terrorist organisation, such as Mark Taylor has done," she said.

"His actions in joining ISIS and travelling to Syria to fight for them has created the potential for legal ramifications in New Zealand."

The Prime Minister went one step further on Tuesday, saying the New Zealand Government was doing nothing to bring him home and "people will probably pick up a lot in my tone" regarding her view of the man.

"Our message right from the outset as a country, as a Government, has been really clear: no one should travel to Syria," she told The AM Show.

"Engaging in these kinds of acts [with ISIS] obviously have consequences and repercussions, including our inability to assist anyone who happens to find themselves in Syria and in detention.

"We do not have people in [Syria], we cannot offer consular assistance and the warnings were very clear.

"That is exactly where he is, and we are making no efforts to change that," she said.

Ms Ardern didn't want to give any more insight into her personal view of Taylor as she didn't want to jeopardise any potential future investigation or court case that may arise from him returning to New Zealand.

How would Taylor get home?
 

As New Zealand doesn't have representatives in Syria and Taylor is believed to have destroyed his previous passport, for the man to access an emergency temporary passport he would need to travel to the nearest consular office in Turkey.

Even if Taylor does manage to get to Turkey after being released from prison, Mr Little said that's only the start of his troubles.

"He has then got to find an airfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs doesn't fund people to get their way back to New Zealand. They have got to know he has exhausted every avenue to fund his way back," said Mr Little.

"Once you are on an international designated terrorist list, airlines are going to look twice or several times about whether they take you on their aircraft. He will have all those challenges to deal with."

Ms Ardern also shut down any possibility of the Government paying for Taylor to return.

"No I am not suggesting [putting taxpayer money to get Taylor home from Turkey] for a moment".

But Green Party Justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said if New Zealand is presented with the opportunity, we should cooperate in bringing him home.

"If there is a process that gets adopted by the UN or the Kurdish forces put in place a process where they are deporting these people, I think we should cooperate with that.

"The people trying to rid Syria of ISIS have asked that if they happen to be foreign fighters, that the country that these people are from actually help with that. That is a tiny thing that we could do. We just need to cooperate with whatever process that they adopt."

Despite the lack of enthusiasm for Taylor to return, Ms Ardern said New Zealand would fulfil its obligations to not make Taylor stateless.

Taylor's re-emergence follows media coverage in February of British ISIS bride Shamima Begum pleading to return to England after years in Syria.

The British Home Office eventually revoked her citizenship and claimed doing so didn't leave the woman stateless, which is not allowed under international law.

"Some of the debate around the cancelling of citizenship is usually around people who have dual citizenship... we have obligations to not deem people stateless. There is a reason for that because then countries would simply be leaving people to be another country's problem," said Mr Ardern.

Should Kiwis be concerned?
 

The US marked Taylor a global terrorist in 2015 after he appeared in an IS propaganda video and encouraged attacks in Australia and New Zealand.

He is also well-known internationally for spending 50 days in an IS prison after forgetting to turn off a geo-tagging function on a tweet, giving away his location.

Mr Little said part of him believes Taylor is a "complete clown" but he wants to remind the public that he is also the same man that has called for violence.

"He happily called on New Zealanders to attack each other and attack others on ANZAC Day.

"There is something pretty hideous going on in his brain if that is the sort of person he is."

If Taylor does reach New Zealand shores, Mr Little said he would possibly be investigated for breaches of the Terrorism Suppression Act, the Crimes Act, and the Marriage Act "because he is a bigamist as well".

Ms Ardern said she had been told there were "very few" New Zealanders in similar positions to Taylor, but the Government would take any case seriously.

"New Zealand's safety is our top priority, justice is obviously our top priority, and we have the means and mechanisms to make sure that we keep safe."

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