Kiwi Jihadi Mark Taylor could be released from captivity in Syria as the United States withdraws and Turkey invades.
The “bumbling jihadi” is among reported New Zealand nationals, including an orphaned toddler, who will face renewed chaos and conflict in war-torn Syria.
US President Donald Trump cleared the way for Turkey to invade northern Syria in a shock statement on Monday night, while announcing US forces would withdraw from the region.
The Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were previously supported by the US and are reported to have imprisoned Taylor. The Kurds have vowed to fight Turkish military, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a long-expected offensive into northeastern Syria.
Isis prisoners such as Taylor, who travelled to Syria to join the extremist group, may be released amid the chaos.
International security expert Al Gillespie said Taylor was the only confirmed New Zealand citizen in northern Syria, though there were reports of as many as five.
“My fear is, as Kurdistan starts to be under attack, it’s just going to let go of the jails and all of the people that are held are just going to flee.
“You’re going to see the release of the people in the prisons and … you’re going to see another refugee exodus,” he said.
The US has urged countries, including New Zealand, to repatriate their citizens who joined Isis, and Trump reiterated the call on Monday.
But the Government remains reluctant to comment on the New Zealand citizens in Syria, and without a consular presence there is under no obligation to assist.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously said Taylor would receive no assistance form the Government.
But the situation could be different if reports of a New Zealand toddler are correct, Gillespie said.
“If the citizenship can be proven … then under international law, the best interests of the child might be that you would facilitate some kind of repatriation.”
A spokesperson for Ardern provided a statement which said the situation “remains very fluid and extremely complex”.
Asked last week about reports of a New Zealand toddler in Syria, Ardern said she would not comment on the status of individuals in Syria.
“The number of New Zealanders in Syria, that we’re aware of, are very small. And when it comes to children, my understanding is that they would all be born outside New Zealand as well, so likely to be Syrian-born.”
Minister of Defence Ron Mark said New Zealand’s deployments in Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar, in support of the Defeat-Isis coalition would remain.
“We understand the situation is still evolving,” he said in a statement.
Defence Force personnel would also remain in Jordan as part of intelligence mission Operation Gallant Phoenix, which New Zealand joined in 2014 in hope of finding Red Cross nurse Louisa Akavi.
Akavi, 62, was among Western hostages taken by Isis in 2013, and Stuff reported in April the Government held some hope she was still alive — possibly in a displaced persons camp in north Syria.
NEW ZEALAND TODDLER
Australian Kamalle Dabboussy has a daughter and three grandchildren among the foreign nationals held in Syria, and is a spokesperson for a group of families in Australia in the same position.
Kurdish forces will not lay down their weapons, he said, “and in that resistance we now find the girls in the middle of another war”.
He is advocating for the grandmother of the New Zealand orphan, who he said had lived across the Tasman for about a decade.
She was preparing to return in hope of pushing the Government to repatriate her grandson.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has positively responded to their pleas for help, “but I don’t want to be too optimistic with that”.
“We’ve got photos, we’ve got information, we know the child’s date of birth, we know a fair bit of detail. For us, there’s no real question of this child’s origins.”
An MFAT spokeswoman said in a statement that New Zealand didn’t have a diplomatic presence in Syria and individual cases would not be commented on.