Parents say Toowoomba teen 'jihadist' 'not a terrorist'
UPDATE: The parents of Toowoomba teenager Oliver Bridgeman who is suspected of joining a terrorist movement in Syria have said they don't believe he is supporting al-Qa'ida.
"We had no indication that he was making plans to travel to the Middle East, however we now know that he is probably there," his parents, who have not been named, said in a statement.
"We do not believe he is participating in fighting of any kind, nor do we believe he is supporting or participating in terrorist acts.
"We love our son very much."
The latest intelligence suggests the teenager is currently in a conflict zone, according to Australian Federal Police Commander Peter Crozier.
An unnamed friend of Mr Bridgeman has been quoted as saying "Oh my God. Oh my God. We knew he had gone a bit strange but never imagined he would do anything like this. He was just a kid who loved school, football and music."
EARLIER: A Toowoomba teenager who is suspected of joining the ranks of the al-Qa'ida-linked Al-Nusra Front in Syria was schooled in Toowoomba and is originally from the Gold Coast, it has emerged.
Oliver Bridgeman, 18, attended the Garden City Mosque occasionally for Friday prayers and was likely radicalised over the internet.
Toowoomba Islamic community leader Professor Shahjahan Khan said he was shocked when he heard news of a local teenager heading to Syria to join a terrorist movement.
Mr Bridgeman hailed from the Gold Coast before moving to Toowoomba where he spent a year at Harristown High school. He is believed to have joined up with al-Qa'ida-linked movement the Al-Nusra Front in war-torn Syria.
"I don't know much about him," Professor Khan said.
"I spoke with his mother when he was moving from the Gold Coast to Toowoomba and he occasionally came to Friday prayers at the Mosque.
"He was only here (Toowoomba) a short time and I think he went to school here for a year.
"He didn't interact much with the community."
Professor Khan said the hearts of the local Islamic community went out to the teen's family who they offered support though he had not personally spoken with any of the family since the news broke.
"No parent likes to see their child in this situation," he said.
"I hope that he realises the pressure and pain he has put on his parents.
"I hope he understands his mistake and comes back to his family.
"We are more than happy to support the family in any way."
Toowoomba's Islamic community is due to meet for Friday prayers in the hall next to the West St Mosque which was the target of an arson attack last month.
Prof Khan said he expected the community to discuss the teenager's situation at today's Friday prayers.
He believes the teen may have become radicalised via the Internet and urged parents of all backgrounds to be vigilant in monitoring what their children were viewing on the internet.
"It shows how vulnerable are the young people who are unprotected and exposed to the internet become victims of online prey," he said.
"I don't understand it.
"Australia is one of the best counties in the world... that's why I came here.
"Why people leave Australia and their family to go over there, I just don't understand.
"We have always expressed our condemnation of all criminal and illegal activities exercised by militant groups in the name of Islam.
"We continue to speak and work against the involvement of Australians in overseas conflicts.
"This situation is a clear indication that government and community need to work together to prevent young Australians from going overseas to war zones, and from becoming radicalised.
"We believe in the peaceful message of Islam which is the key to our ongoing engagement with the members of the wider community to live in peace and harmony.
"Our non-violent and inclusive approach is well known to the community and we will continue to work together with everyone interested to strengthen the unity of Toowoomba community."
Professor Khan spent most of the morning fielding inquiries from a range of media outlets.
EARLIER: A Toowoomba teenager has become Australia's latest jihadi fighter and is suspected of joining the ranks of the al-Qa'ida-linked Al-Nusra Front in Syria, according to reports.
The Courier Mail reports counter-terrorism police have confirmed the 18-year-old fled Australia last month, following the path up to a dozen other Queenslanders thought to have taken up arms in the Middle East.
The paper has quoted Australian Federal Police manager of counter-terrorism operations, Commander Peter Crozier as saying the latest intelligence suggested the teenager was "in the conflict area" ... and had "aligned himself with a proscribed (terrorist) group".
He reportedly went to Syria via a number of different locations.
The name of the teenager has not been released.