An Australian teenager believed to be the author of a blog detailing his transition from aspiring political journalist to Islamic State fighter has reportedly died carrying out a suicide attack in Iraq.
An image released on Wednesday by the Islamic State shows Abu Abdullah al-Australi — thought to be the nom de guerre of 18-year-old Jake Bilardi — sitting in a white van, apparently preparing for the attack in Anbar province. Australian authorities said they were investigating reports of the death of the teenager, who dropped out of school and left the country in August 2014.
A blog purportedly written by the teenager says his world view changed after he studied the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, which he characterized as brutal and imperialistic attempts to impose democracy — "a system of lies and deception." This was the beginning of "my complete hatred and opposition to the entire system Australia and the majority of the world was based upon. ... the moment I realised that violent global revolution was necessary to eliminate this system of governance and that it I would likely be killed in this struggle."
The blog also says that before he left for the Islamic State, frustrated at difficulties in doing so, he planned to carry out a "string of bombings" in Australia. Following his disappearance, police searched the teenager's home and found chemicals that could be used in bombs, although no explosive devices were found.
"I can confirm that the Australian government is currently seeking to independently verify reports that 18-year-old Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi has been killed in a suicide bombing attack in the Middle East," said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. The authorities had been aware of Bilardi's presence in Syria and Iraq, and in October, his passport was revoked by the Australian government.
According to the BBC, it has been suggested that there were at least 13 suicide bombs in a series of coordinated attacks in the city of Ramadi, in Anbar province. Tweets by IS supporters linked the Ramadi attacks to the teenager, as well as militants from Russia, Syria, Egypt, Belgium and Uzbekistan.
A blog post, titled "From Melbourne to Ramadi: My Journey," which has now been removed from the internet, provides a chilling insight into the mind of Bilardi.
"My life in Melbourne's working-class suburbs was, despite having its ups and downs just like everyone else, very comfortable," the blog, a copy of which has been obtained by VICE News, says. "I found myself excelling in my studies, just as my siblings had, and had dreamed of becoming a political journalist."
Bilardi says he was inspired to investigate foreign policy issues by his eldest brother's strong interest in international politics — though he stresses that his sibling did not "radicalize" him and was unhappy that he had traveled out to the Islamic State. He details how he learned about abuses committed by foreign troops in Iraq, such as the Abu Ghraib case, and began to change his world view.
"I was beginning to learn that what the media was feeding us was nothing but a government-sponsored distortion of the reality. The image of the American hero waving the US flag on top of a Hummer rolling through Baghdad was nothing but the soft cover to a brutal untold story," Bilardi writes.
"It was from my investigations into the invasions and occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan that gave birth to my disdain for the United States and its allies, including Australia. It was also the start of my respect for the mujahideen that would only grow to develop into a love of Islam and ultimately bring me here to the Islamic State," he says.
The blog post recounts how he searched for a contact in the Islamic State, but fearing "possible attempts by the increasingly-intrusive authorities in Australia," began to plan a string of bombings across Melbourne, "targeting foreign consulates and political/military targets as well as grenade and knife attacks on shopping centres and cafes and culminating with myself detonating a belt of explosives amongst the kuffar [non-believers]."
Sensing that the authorities could foil his plan, he left the country and traveled to Iraq and Syria, via Turkey. On his arrival, he signed up to a martyrdom operation in Baiji, which failed: "After I witnessed the mistakes made, I turned to fighting in the city before once again registering for a martyrdom operation, a decision that would bring me to the large yet modest city of Ramadi."
It has been estimated that around 100 to 250 Australians have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, according to figures by the UK-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR). In December 2013, the Australian government was criticized over how a convicted terrorist, Khaled Sharrouf, managed to leave the country to join IS using his brother's passport.
On Sunday, two teenagers aged 16 and 17 were stopped at Sydney airport on suspicion of trying to join IS.
Last week, Australia introduced legislation into the parliament that would allow it to collect biometrics, including facial images and fingerprints, at the border. This would "enhance the capability of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to identify people entering or departing Australia" Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said.
"The checks will help prevent the entry of those who may threaten the Australian community and the departure of others such as convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf who left Australia in 2013 using his brother's passport."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the unconfirmed reports of Bilardi's death as horrific: "It shows the lure, the lure of this death cult to impressionable youngsters and it's very, very important that we do everything we can to try to safeguard our young people against the lure of this shocking, alien and extreme ideology."
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