On Thursday, Australian teen Oliver Bridgeman, suspected of fighting with an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria, reportedly told his parents that he wants to return home.
This news is the latest in the endemic of Western teens who go overseas to the war-torn region and deeply regret it.
The Australian Federal Police have accused Bridgeman, 18, of joining the al Qaeda affiliated Al-Nustra Front, a jihadi rebel organization. If he returns to his native Queensland, he would likely face jail time for violating Australian law governing entry into conflict zones.
Bridgeman’s parents, however, deny that he has any involvement in the fighting or terrorist acts. Rather they say he is in the Middle East for humanitarian reasons, including working at orphanages in the area.
Bridgeman most likely lied to his parents to leave Australia.
An AFP spokesman told the media that the police organization “is continuing to engage with his family, and [is] looking for a way that we might be able to communicate with him in an effort to convince him to return home.”
Aside from the legal challenges to returning home Bridgeman faces, he could be under the threat of horrific punishment. This March, another Australian teen who left his homeland to fight with Islamists in Syria was allegedly beheaded by ISIS when he attempted to escape.
In April 2014, two Austrian girls left home to join ISIS. They were hailed as the new “poster girls of ISIS” and rapidly married off to Chechen fighters. According to security professionals, when both became pregnant, they contacted their families to say they wanted to come home. However, as of October 2014, experts believe it is next to impossible for the girls to return to Austria.
In January, CNN interviewed a Yazidi girl who was kidnapped by ISIS during their near-genocide of the Middle Eastern tribe. The girl, called “Aria” in the piece, spoke of brutal conditions. The Yazidi girls were sold into sex slavery, and many of Aria’s friends were raped.
In February of 2015, experts estimated that over 20,000 foreigners were fighting in the Syrian Civil War, including several thousand Westerners from places like Australia, Europe, and even the United States. Since February, the numbers have only grown.
Australia and Turkey, two of the countries from which a large number of foreign ISIS fighters originate, announced in April a plan to counter recruitment drives by extremist groups. At the same time, leaders from both nations emphasized the need for families to prevent radicalization in the home, because families can usually identify at-risk individuals much more quickly than intelligence forces can.