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New Zealand has responsibility for ISIS man says law academic

06 March 2019

A law professor says a New Zealander who flew to Syria to join ISIS remains the responsibility of New Zealand despite being branded a terrorist and a security threat.

Mark Taylor is now being held in a prison in northern Syria.

Nicknamed "the Kiwi Jihadi" by the media, Taylor told Australian media he fled ISIS in December and surrendered to Kurdish forces because life had become unbearable with the group, with no food or money.

Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge told Newstalk ZB that New Zealand would have to take him back if he wanted to return. 

"He's got New Zealand citizenship, there is only a narrow ability under the Citizenship Act to take that away."

Mr Hodge said it would be "drawing a very long bow" to take Taylor’s citizenship away. If he had gained citizenship in another country, it would be possible, and Hodge says the Government could argue he became a citizen of ISIS. 

"They could say 'they behaved like a state, you acted like a citizen of the state, you burnt your passport'," he told the station.  

In 2015, the US government declared Taylor a global terrorist after he encouraged attacks in Australia and New Zealand and appeared in an IS propaganda video.

As New Zealand doesn't have representation in Syria, after he is free Taylor would need to travel to the nearest consular office in Turkey.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told media that if the former ISIS supporter wants to come back to New Zealand, he would have to be issued emergency travel documentation.

She also said Taylor's actions created the potential for legal actions in New Zealand, under the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002.

Hurdles to overcome

Should Taylor get to Turkey, the Minister of Justice Andrew Little says it’s a long way back to New Zealand, in more ways than one.

"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," Mr Little told Newshub.

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

The case is similar to that of British ISIS fighter Shamima Begum who has plead to return to the United Kingdom after four years in Syria.

University of Waikato law professor Alexander Gillespie told RNZ the New Zealand government at some point may need to do something.

"Our government is following the approach of the British, which is effectively saying 'we will help them if they can get to an embassy or some consular help in Turkey'."

"You need to get these people out so that they don't effectively just go into the wind if they are released in Kurdistan.

"It's very important that each country faces up to its responsibilities to bring home these people not because we feel particularly inclined to be nice to them but if you don't bring them home there's a chance that they'll go out and perpetuate their act again somewhere else."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019