The Islamic State recruit the British media decried as a “white jihadi” in December, proclaiming he was a “major coup for the terrorist group”, is a skinny, baby-faced boy from Craigieburn in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, and his non-Muslim family is worried sick about him.
Fairfax Media can reveal that the young westerner pictured last December sitting between bearded men and holding an assault rifle in front of a black flag is actually an 18-year-old Australian called Jake. We will not reveal his full name at the request of a family member.
The revelations come as Australian customs officials confirmed that two teenage brothers, believed to have been attempting to travel to conflict zones in the Middle East, were stopped at Sydney Airport.
The youths, aged 16 and 17, were detained by Customs on Friday, after they aroused the suspicions of two Customs and Border Protection officers, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said.
The teenagers were referred to the Customs Counter Terrorism Unit, which determined the pair were intending to travel without the knowledge of their parents. The brothers were allowed to leave the airport with their parents and were issued court attendance notices.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the interception showed the government’s tough new foreign fighters laws were working.
Meanwhile, Fairfax’s investigation can reveal Jake was a high-flying student, a maths whiz, who attended Craigieburn Secondary College’s CEAP Excel accelerated learning program.
However, he dropped out of high school in mid-2014, after converting to Islam, and bought a one-way ticket to Istanbul, on the way to Iraq and Syria to fight for the so-called caliphate.
In December, Jake’s photograph hit Twitter, where a user, Abu Dawud, identified the young man as “Jonathan Edwards”.
The tweet said he had “applied for Ucas [Britain’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service] to [sic] late and wasn’t accepted in any university, so he joined the Islamic state”.
After Britain’s Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph newspapers picked up the story and ran it, Abu Dawud laughed about having “trolled” and “humiliated” the British media, saying the story was fake, leading to speculation that the picture was doctored.
But Fairfax Media has had the photograph positively identified by friends and also by members of two suburban north Melbourne mosques as that of a quiet, young Muslim convert who worshipped with them for about a year before disappearing.
“He used to come here when we had a big lecture,” said Abu Zaid, a committee member of the Hume Islamic Youth Centre in Coolaroo, near Meadow Heights.
Mr Zaid said Jake didn’t have a car, so he used to ask the other brothers for lifts to and from the centre, which features a prayer hall for more than 1000 people, lecture rooms, a cafe and a gym.
“He was a very quiet guy; he stuck to himself,” Mr Zaid said. “We weren’t close to him. I didn’t see any of the people [getting] close to him.”
Worshippers at the Australian Islamic Social Association in Meadow Heights also remember the young Jake going there to pray.
It is understood that Jake, who now goes by the Islamic names Abdur Raheem or Abu Abdullah, was 16 when he began feeling unhappy and started searching for spiritual answers.
A school friend introduced him to Islam and he recited the verses required to convert.
At the Meadow Heights mosque, people who remembered Jake said his family was negative towards his new religion.
A former school friend, who asked to remain anonymous, but said he had known Jake since they were children, said Jake had “made his own choice and he believes it is the right choice”.
“He was not pushed into IS [Islamic State] and was not pushed into Islam,” the friend said.
“People can make their own decisions and this was one of his … he felt that it was right for him … He had done sufficient research to believe it was the right step in life.
“He was obviously a believer in Islam and wanted to fulfil what he believed was his duties to the religion.”
Other friends described Jake as extremely shy and quiet, but said he was “really bright”.
School friend Kutlu Karapinar said he was “quite politically aware for his age”.
Another, Josh Green-Mercier, said he was interested in different cultures, but “he never seemed very happy”. “I’m not sure why. He usually just listened to us and sometimes talked but rarely. He would just talk about math, etc.”
A Fairfax Media investigation has revealed that, during his final year of high school in 2014, Jake began communicating via online forums and emails with a supposed American journalist from the BBC. He began telling his family he was going to Istanbul to work with the journalist, even though he had previously expressed little interest in the profession and had no qualifications. It now appears the “journalist” was an Islamic State recruiter.
By that stage he had moved to a school in Essendon and was finding the travel difficult from Craigieburn. According to one friend, Jake believed he would fail high school, so he dropped out.
A source close to the family says that in August that year, Jake closed down most of his online and social media accounts and disappeared. A subsequent search revealed he bought a one-way ticket to Istanbul.
Two months after his disappearance, Jake contacted his family to let them know that he was in Iraq training for a “martyrdom mission” with a suicide vest. Later that month, however, he called again to say he was “too scared to do it and he prefers being a soldier”. He proposed to travel to Syria.
Fairfax Media has confirmed with sources in Turkey that about that time, Jake, using his full Islamic name and his family’s surname, was documented crossing into Syria via the Jaraybus or Tal Aybad crossing. The sources also identified him by photographs.
Neither the Attorney-General’s department nor the Australian Federal Police would comment on the case, but the government says at least 140 Australians have travelled overseas to fight in Iraq and Syria, of whom at least 20 are known to have died.
Jake left little online activity behind, but one is on video-sharing site Livestream, where he followed one user only: the national Muslim organisation Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’a Association of Australia (ASWJ).
ASWJ is based in Auburn, Sydney, and is associated with the Hume Islamic Youth Centre in Melbourne. It streams lectures via the social media site.
Jake’s profile picture includes a quote from Islamic philosopher Ibn Taymiyyah: “What can my enemies do to me? My paradise is in my heart, it is with me wherever I go. To imprison me is to provide me with seclusion. To send me into exile is to send me away in the Path of Allah. And to kill me is to make me a martyr”.
With Lisa Visentin
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.