Pictured: Oliver Bridgeman in Australia
An Australian teenager who fled to Syria at the height of Islamic State’s rampage through the Middle East is still alive and has reinvented himself as an aid worker.
Oliver Bridgeman was only 18 when he fled Toowoomba, Queensland, after a Schoolies missionary trip to Indonesia in 2015 for then war-torn Syria.
The decision saw the Australian Government cancel his passport over concerns he had joined a terrorist organisation known as Al-Nusra Front, which was backed by Al-Qaeda.
The blond former school captain then vanished from view and many presumed he had died in the bloody conflict.
However, six years later, Daily Mail Australia can reveal he is still alive and living in the war-torn country, and now claims he’s known by the Islamic name, Yusuf Bridgeman.
The name ‘Yusuf’ is often used by Islamic converts, including prominent musician, Cat Stevens.
Bridgeman has always maintained he only travelled to Syria to perform humanitarian work and has vehemently denied joining any terrorist group.
But the Australian Government believes he fought in the conflict against Western troops as a foreign fighter.
Bridgeman maintains that he only ever travelled to Syria to perform humanitarian work and now delivers care packages and food boxes to orphaned children and widows
Bridgeman now shares updates to his followers showing him delivering parcels to children he claims are orphans and or helping displaced families – many of whom are living in poverty in refugee camps.
He claims having his passport cancelled by the Australian government was a ‘blessing in disguise’ and is now married.
The now 24-year-old claims most of the women and children he works with are living in refugee camps after ‘losing everything… for the sake of Allah’.
‘I have witnessed and spoken with some people who have lost absolutely everything,’ he said.
‘It’s so hard to describe the pain and torment these people have gone through for the sake of Allah.’
These two photos both show Bridgeman holding one finger in the air. The pose has been associated with ISIS but also reflects the Muslim ideology to believe in one God
He regularly shares updates with his followers delivering parcels to orphans and displaced local families – all of whom are living in poverty in dusty tents and camps
At the time of the decision to cancel Bridgeman’s passport, then-Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Australians were warned there would be consequences for travelling to Syria.
‘People who go off into conflict zones — even if they’re well intentioned — ultimately can cause significant grief and stress for their own families,’ he said.
‘This is something people should contemplate before they go — not when they’re in the middle of a conflict zone.’
The warrant for his arrest alleged he took part in ‘incursions into foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities’.
Official advice from the Australian government is to avoid travelling to Syria due to an ‘extremely dangerous security situation’.
‘Armed conflict is ongoing and air strikes, kidnappings and terrorist attacks are common,’ the official advice states.
Bridgeman shared this picture taken during the Nyepi Parade – the crowning point of Balinese New Year – in March 2015, before travelling on to Syria
Bridgeman has previously said his volunteer work is rewarding and that he feels he has done his bit in Syria by helping to save lives
He maintains he has never engaged in fighting, nor is he a terrorist. Instead, he says his only goal is to help people
Bridgeman has spoken extensively about the challenges faced in an active war zone each day.
In one post, he revealed an air strike narrowly missed him, leaving him with a minor scratch and ‘dusty cap’.
Most people he encounters are less fortunate.
He regularly posts photos posing alongside malnourished and traumatised children, sharing stories of extreme poverty, illness and injury.
He recently shared details about a young boy who spends his days gathering plastic on the streets, which he sells for 20c a kilogram to support his family, who all live in a camp with him.
Bridgeman claims many of the children have spent their whole lives in refugee camps and know nothing other than war and poverty.
‘Kids who have never eaten meat or even slept on a comfy mattress. Their fathers sacrificed their own lives for this and now they are living in refugee camps living below the poverty line because the people have forgotten them.’
Bridgeman claims to be working for one of the only charities in eastern Europe with volunteers on the ground in war torn Syria
His charity raised more than $30,000USD from 360 backers in 2021 alone, including donors from Australia
The refugee camps which house displaced widows, orphans and local families are at risk of Covid, particularly in freezing winters
Many wear face masks to avoid catching Covid, although the lack of resources in camps often make it hard for people to protect themselves from the virus.
Dr Ihsan, a cardiologist on the front line of the Covid crisis in northern Syria, said each tent normally houses up to 10 people, so there is no way isolate if a family member catches Covid.
While official statistics suggest there have been just 23,788 Covid cases and 1,705 deaths in Syria, medics believe true results are far higher.
‘People here are not very scared about Covid-19, because they have already been through so much. They have dealt with airstrikes, displacement, miserable living conditions and losing loved ones,’ Dr Ihsan said.
But residents are vulnerable, Bridgeman claims. Ten years of constant war and conflict has ravaged the nation’s infrastructure, healthcare system and economy.
Bridgeman turned to Islam while living in Toowoomba in Queensland, but there was no indication he had been radicalised among his peers or religious leaders
Bridgeman shared this photo after an airstrike hit near his home base. He said he managed to escape relatively unscathed, with only a scratch and dusty cap to show for the potentially deadly attack
Bridgeman claims to be working for one of the only charities in eastern Europe with volunteers on the ground in war torn Syria.
Throughout the holy month of Ramadan, Bridgeman told his followers he spent every single day in refugee camps, delivering food hampers and care packages to people most in need.
His charity raised more than $30,000USD from 360 backers in 2021, including donors from Australia.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for information about Bridgeman.
Bridgeman was the school captain at his Gold Coast school and opted to volunteer in a Balinese refugee camp rather than attend Schoolies
On Bridgeman’s new social media channels, he posts photos posing alongside malnourished and traumatised children
Oliver Bridgeman’s parents say they would have turned him in if they thought he was a terrorist
When he made the decision to leave Australia and head to Syria, Oliver Bridgeman told no one of his plans – not even his parents.
The then-18-year-old skipped his traditional Schoolies trip and instead went to Indonesia, where he volunteered in a Balinese refugee camp before heading directly to Syria.
His parents Andy and Kath Bridgeman contacted authorities when their son failed to return home, and were devastated when they learned the truth.
A year after Bridgeman fled, his parents said they ‘struggled to comprehend’ what would compel him to move to Syria.
Mr Bridgeman said: ‘I was freaked, panicked, shocked… [There were] uncontrollable tears. He’s my son and my friend.’
But Mr Bridgeman said he also ‘knew his son’ and was certain he hadn’t gone to Syria to fight with militant extremists, like the government assumed.
In fact, he said if he had any inkling the teen was up to no good, they would have done everything they could to help bring about justice.
‘We would’ve handed him basically on a plate to the authorities,’ Mr Bridgeman said.
‘We said to the Federal police is there anything you want us to do, we would do it. We were so open about it we couldn’t be any more open.
‘If Oliver was involved in that then the family that we are… We say he deserves everything that will come to him. We’re a very moralistic family, if he doesn’t know rights from wrong then he’s got to lay in that bed but we know he’s not doing it, we know our son’.
Instead, his family say he is ‘just a young, naïve kid who wanted to change the world’.