Alleged bomber was being watched

AFP, SYDNEY

Fri, Mar 13, 2015 - Page 5

An Australian teenager who militants claimed carried out a suicide attack in Iraq was under surveillance and his passport had been canceled, officials said yesterday, as reports emerged that he left bomb-making material at his home before fleeing.

A photograph posted online, purportedly from a propaganda video by the Islamic State group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), showed a white car alongside an inset image of a young man who appears to be Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi sitting in a driver’s seat.

It apparently shows the pale, long-haired 18-year-old, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Australi, before he attacked an army unit in western Iraq, although the claims could not be independently verified.

“I can confirm that the Australian government is currently seeking to independently verify reports that 18-year-old Melbourne teenager Jake Bilardi has been killed in a suicide bombing attack in the Middle East,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

“If these reports are confirmed, this is another tragic example of a young Australian being lured to a senseless and violent death by a brutal terrorist organization that is intent on imposing suffering and misery, not only in Iraq and Syria, but beyond,” the minister added.

At least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded in coordinated attacks on government-held areas of the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Wednesday, involving seven almost simultaneous suicide car bombs.

Earlier this week, Fairfax Media identified a picture circulating online of a Westerner shown holding a rifle alongside Islamic State fighters as Bilardi. He had initially been dubbed “Britain’s white jihadi” by London media.

Members of two mosques in Melbourne and friends of the teenager confirmed his identity, saying he converted to Islam after his mother died of cancer and he became confused and angry.

Australian Broadcasting Corp reported that Bilardi left materials for improvised explosive devices at his family home in Melbourne before going to Syria.

It said his family found them and alerted authorities, who began attempting to track his movements in the Middle East.

A lengthy blog post online, attributed to Abu Abdullah al-Australi, appeared to confirm his deadly intentions.

“Fearing possible attempts by the increasingly intrusive authorities in Australia to prevent my departure I began drawing up a Plan B,” the post said.

“This plan involved launching a string of bombings across Melbourne, targeting foreign consulates and political/military targets,” it said.

Bishop said she “was not in a position to discuss this specific issue,” adding that she was awaiting a briefing from security and law enforcement agencies, but she confirmed that Australia “had reason to have Mr Bilardi under surveillance for quite some time” and canceled his passport in October last year after he left for the Middle East in August.

“However, when he started in Iraq and Syria, with ISIL, it’s very difficult for us to keep track of him,” she said.