Bridgeman: I have not betrayed Australia, I am not a traitor
TOOWOOMBA man Oliver Bridgeman says he has not betrayed Australia by travelling to Syria.
Current affairs program Sixty Minutes featured Mr Bridgeman in a television interview after finding him in a refugee camp near the Syrian city of Aleppo.
"I still love Australia, Australia's my home, I have nothing against Australia," Mr Bridgeman said.
"It's a beautiful country, I have my friends and my family is back there."
Mr Bridgeman said he was in Syria working as an aid worker.
"Being in Syria, you know it's a very dangerous place, so of course I have a good relationship with rebel factions in Syria," he said.
"Purely because of my safety, either for me to travel across Syria, I need some people to help me, protect me from either being kidnapped or stuff like this."
He said since being in Syria he had decided that fighting was not the right path to take.
"I'd like to return to Australia some time, I don't want to get involved in the fighting."
Sixty Minutes said Mr Bridgeman had been working in the refugee camp for the last three months.
"I always wanted to have a hands-on approach to try and do my bit and ease the suffering of the people, I kind of thought it was a moral obligation of me as well to help these people because of the suffering and the war. They've left their homes and retreated to the borders and have absolutely nothing," Bridgeman said.
"It's a stereotypical thing, an 18-year-old blonde kid, a convert to Islam, goes to Syria, doesn't tell his family, you know I guess a lot of people get the wrong idea about this," he said.
Earlier this year Mr Bridgeman left Australia, telling his parents he was to do humanitarian work in Indonesia before surfacing in Syria.
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Reports emerged that he was suspected by authorities of joining a proscribed terrorist group, but the teen has maintained he was in the war-torn region for humanitarian purposes.
An Australian Federal Police spokesman said at the time: "The AFP is aware that a teenager from the Toowoomba area of Queensland left Australia recently and may be in a Middle East conflict area."
Mr Bridgeman said in the interview he was not a part of Al-Qaeda and had never joined a rebel group in Syria.
Sixty Minutes enlisted the help of independent documentary maker Bilal Abdul Kareem to track down and interview Bridgeman.
Mr Kareem retraced Oliver's steps into Syria, crossing the Turkish border and travelling into rebel-held territory just outside Aleppo.
Mr Bridgeman said there weren't many people in Syria from Australia.
"I've spent some time in the middle of Syria distributing aid and helping people rebuild their huts, their refugee camps," he said.
Sixty Minutes enlisted the help of Counter-terrorism expert, Professor Anne Aly to analyse comments made by Mr Bridgeman.
"He's certainly not a Jihadi and he's certainly not the face of terrorism," she said.
"To me he's very sincere in his altruism, he's very sincere in his intentions of going over there solely and specifically to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Syria.
"He certainly exhibits no signs of wanting to fight and no signs of going over there with the intention to fight which is very important."
Mr Bridgeman said he became a Muslim two years ago and said he converted after researching the religion.
He claims he had a Muslim friend in school and became interested in the religion because of the many negative stereotypes about it.
"I had a lot of questions to ask and the more I researched the more I came to like it," he said.
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He said he did not regret coming to Syria, despite the controversy surrounding his visit.
"Since I've been here, how much I've touched these people… I like to think I've changed these people's lives forever.
Mr Bridgeman claims to be working aid organisation LIVE Updates from SYRIA.
The charity runs 25 schools in Syria.
Mr Bridgeman said anyone who had travelled to Syria had been branded as an Islamic terrorist.
"Everyone that goes to Syria is branded as a terrorist and is fighting, but for me that's not the case," Mr Bridgeman said.
Mr Bridgeman said he left for Syria without telling anyone because he feared he would have been prevented from travelling to the war-torn country.
He said reports about him being a terrorist were blatant lies.
"They've damaged me, they've damaged my family and my friends," he said.
"I've no intention of fighting, I haven't received any training.
"No one has told me, forced me to fight."
Mr Bridgeman may have broken Australian laws by travelling to Syria.