WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Before he left New Zealand, Mark Taylor spoke with a local television network. "I've been lonely all my life," he said. "Been rejected by people. Used by people. Abused by people."
He said that by converting to Islam, he felt he'd become part of a community.
"Because the good thing about being Muslim is you can walk into virtually any mosque and pray," he told TV3 News, "and people would welcome you."
When Taylor, 42, began visiting a mosque in the city of Hamilton about four years ago, worshippers there saw him as lonely, a little lost and possessing a childlike view of the world. They didn't see any anger or radicalism in the security guard who said he was a former Army soldier.
And so they were not only appalled but also worried for him when he resurfaced last year in Syria, describing himself as an adventurer and posting social media messages under the Twitter handle "Kiwi Jihadi."
Authorities estimate only half-a-dozen New Zealanders have traveled to Syria to fight with Islamic State. It's unclear how they've become radicalized, although Taylor's case might provide a clue: He's acknowledged listening to the sermons of the late U.S.-born al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.
When Taylor, who also goes by the names Muhammad Daniel and Abu Abdul-Rahman, arrived in Hamilton, mosque elder Mustafa Farouk said he and others tried to help. Farouk said they allowed Taylor 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 said. "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."
How Taylor managed to leave New Zealand — despite being closely monitored — has raised questions about the effectiveness of the country's intelligence and immigration agencies.
He had been arrested in 2009 in proximity to al-Qaida militants in the Pakistani region of Waziristan. He told authorities he was there looking for a bride, and was later released.
Diplomatic cables leaked to Wikileaks show Australian authorities recommended in 2010 that Taylor be placed on a watch list because of his "demonstrated connections" with al-Awlaki. In 2011, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said a number of unspecified restrictions had been placed on Taylor.
But Farouk said he managed to leave a couple of years ago for Indonesia, where he lived and worked before traveling to Syria.
New Zealand authorities, citing privacy concerns, declined to answer questions from the AP about how Taylor managed to depart, or to say whether he had served as a soldier.
His Twitter profile says he is "in Dawlah Islam, Islamic state," though his current status is unclear. In April, he posted a video calling on Islamic State supporters in New Zealand and Australia who have had their passports confiscated to commit terrorist acts at home, "even if it means you have to stab a few police officers or soldiers."