Wanted Aussie terror suspect gloats about new life
THE Queensland man who went to Syria as a teenager and is now wanted on terrorism charges has broken his years-long silence, saying the loss of his Australia passport was "a blessing in disguise.''
Toowoomba man Oliver Bridgeman, 21, took part in an interview broadcast on social media early on Monday morning by an American journalist based in northern Syria.
Speaking with an accent and using Arabic phrases, Bridgeman, who has been in Syria for almost four years, said he had married two years ago, but chosen to keep his wife's identity a secret.
He said the loss of his Australian passport had turned out to be " the best thing that's happened to me so far in Syria.''
News Corp had been following Bridgeman's movements and believed his location several months ago was near Idlib, a large city in northwestern Syria controlled by various jihadi groups.
Bridgeman has always strongly denied being a terrorist and said his work in Syria was humanitarian, as he fronted the camera for various aid groups, discussing the distribution of food and supplies for refugees forced from their homes by the Syrian war, which is approaching its eight-year anniversary.
He went to Syria in late 2014 or early 2015 after he left high school. In 2016, his lawyers approached the Australian Federal Police with the intention of negotiating his return to Australia.
The Australian Federal Police instead cancelled his passport and issued a warrant for his arrest.
The warrant alleges he took part in "incursions into foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities," - effectively a claim that he travelled to Syria with the intention of becoming a foreign fighter.
It does not say which group he is alleged to have intended to fight for.
In the interview, controversial journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem, who was born Darrell Lamont Phelps but changed his name after converting to Islam and moving to the Middle East, put to Bridgeman that he was "not a fighter.''
Bridgeman replied, "no, no definitely not.''
"After the cancellation of my passport, which happened in 2016, 2017, I'm not sure, it was a blessing in disguise,'' he said.
He said the loss of his passport meant he stopped doing on-camera work promoting aid agencies, and was able to be more hands-on assisting people.
He said he joined several new charities, worked as a principal in a school and taught English, as well as distributing aid and "sponsoring orphans and windows.''
"I actually enjoyed it more when I was behind the scenes,'' he said.
He said he had many emotions running through him when he found out his passport had been cancelled, and was doing Google searches trying to find out what it meant.
He said officials had gone to his parents' home and "said basically they're going to destroy your son's future and were cancelling his passport.''
"What's my future now? Can I leave this country … basically I couldn't leave this country, essentially,'' he said.
"It was a blessing in disguise. When I decided to leave to go back to Australia, I still didn't want to leave but I knew I had to.''
He said he had thought he might be able to go back, clear his name and start a new charity to assist the Syrian people from Australia.
"But, the will of Allah was that my passport was cancelled. It caused a bit of an issue with some of the NGOs I was working with … it made me put my head down a bit more, and help in ways that were (more) beneficial. I think it's the best thing that's happened to me so far in Syria.''
Bridgeman said he had "of course'' grown up a lot during his time in Syria.
"I've had four years' experience living in a war zone.
"It's a very dangerous place, every corner there is danger lurking … it's every man for himself essentially,'' he said.
"If you want to survive in this place, if you want to stay alive, you have to be a strong person, you have to make hard decisions
"It's been four years, thanks to God I've been helping a lot of people. I don't want to boast but I think I've saved a lot of lives and improved the quality of life for a lot of Syrians.
He said it had been hard on his family not to know anything about his wife, and he did not yet have children.
"Inshallah (God willing) in the future when my situation gets better then I am quite happy for my parents to meet my wife,'' he said.
Bridgeman's parents and lawyer have been trying for years to extricate him from Syria and appealing the cancellation of his passport.
If he is returned to Australia, he will almost certainly face charges that, if proven, carry a potential life sentence.
In documents handed to his parents to justify the removal of his passport, officials state: "ASIO assesses that Mr Bridgeman travelled to Syria for the purpose of engaging in PMV [politically motivated violence]".
The documents go on to say: "Mr Bridgeman likely remains ideologically supportive of politically motivated violence and would be likely to engage in conduct that might prejudice the security of Australia.''