12 March 2015
Last updated at 08:23
Bilardi joked that an image circulated on social media was “a bad photo” of him
The Australian government is investigating unconfirmed reports that an Australian teenage Muslim convert who ran away to join Islamic State (IS) has carried out a suicide attack in Iraq. Details of casualties were not immediately known. Last year, he talked online to BBC Newsnight’s Secunder Kermani.
Jake Bilardi is an 18-year-old Australian Muslim convert from Melbourne, who went under the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Australi. I interviewed him over the internet in December shortly after a photograph of him appeared online, but he asked me back then not to reveal his identity.
He had no idea the photo had been made public, but told me jokingly: “It’s out now, I guess to be honest my biggest problem is that it’s a bad photo of me, haha.”
On a far darker note, he told me that he planned to carry out a suicide attack – and on Wednesday, IS said he had carried a suicide car bombing in Iraq’s Anbar province. The Australian government says it is investigating the report.
Bilardi and I spoke over a period of a couple of days in December. He said he was in Ramadi, Iraq, and at that time had spent about four months with IS.
Many of the messages he sent me were typical of the Western IS members I have spoken to – at times sounding like lines from IS propaganda films. He expressed his ideological hatred of the Shias he was fighting in Iraq and justified attacks against his home country.
He told me he didn’t want to be drawn into discussing how he had ended up converting to Islam, or about his life in Australia.
He did say that his family “hated Islam”, and that he believed all non-Muslims had a deep hatred of the religion. He said that he had always had an interest in politics, and a distrust of international organisations such as the United Nations.
I asked him why, if he thought there were injustices in the world, he didn’t seek to resolve them through democratic means. He replied: “Let’s be honest you can stand on a street and scream about wanting change and wait maybe 100 years for things to happen or you can grab a gun and fight and change things quickly.”
I found out more about his journey to radicalisation through his account on Yahoo Questions, where users post questions that are answered by member of the public. He was a fairly prolific user, and his questions and answers give an insight into his changing state of mind.
Five years ago, his questions were the usual pretty banal stuff. In one he writes: “Is Russia part of Asia or Europe? Me and my brother were having a debate.” Others are about tennis, or the Grand Prix, or Microsoft Word.
An image published by Twitter accounts connected to IS purports to show Jake Bilardi in a suicide bomb van
A year later, there is evidence of changes in his political consciousness. He asks: “Are you against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?” And: “Do you think Australia is racist?” Although that’s still peppered with questions about his teeth, and where to get work experience in journalism.
In one post, he writes that at times he feels that members of his family might be “plotting to kill him” and that “hidden cameras” are watching him. He welcomes a suggestion to see a psychologist.
Around that time, he says he converted to Islam, having previously been an atheist. According to some Australian media reports, his conversion took place shortly after the death of his mother.
He asks the questions that any recent convert might: “Can I celebrate Christmas still?” “Wondering if it is halal for me to pray in a classroom during a lesson?”
Another year passes and his account shows the signs of someone attracted to jihadist ideology. He writes in defence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and says: “There is only one Islamic State [in the world] between Iraq and Syria.”
His final questions were about a one-way ticket to Turkey, and seeking help with his passport application. Shortly after, he flew out of Australia. I asked him if he had been questioned at all – he said he had not.
“I’m a young white guy with no criminal record, doesn’t scream terrorist does it? Hahaha,” he wrote.
He joined IS, and says he was fast-tracked through military training as he told the group he wanted to be a suicide car-bomber. “I came here chasing death, I might as well kill as many kuffar as I can,” he told me.
I asked him whether, if nothing else, he had considered the impact his death would have on his family in Australia. He wrote casually: “I’ve got a job to do. I didn’t come here to hand out roses and boxes of chocolates.”