Missing Sunshine Coast man reportedly fighting for al-Qaeda
THE family of a Sunshine Coast man who disappeared in 2001 are belived to have been left shocked by reports he's still alive and in Syria as part of al-Qaeda forces there.
News reports overnight suggest former Australian soldier Mathew Stewart now calls himself Usama Hamza Australi and is actively engaged in training and fighting with al-Qaeda.
The Australian Federal Police declined to comment, as has his family who have not seen or heard from him since he left the army in early 2001 and entered Afghanistan shortly afterwards.
Stewart's mother Vicki has been a respected Sunshine Coast real estate agent and property manager for the past 35 years.
In 2005 an al-Qaeda video appeared in which Mathew was thought to have taken part although at the time his family denied it was him.
In the latest al-Risalah, English-language propaganda magazine, a person describing himself as a Queenslander, though not identifying himself as Stewart says he is a senior al-Qaeda Central commander training fighters and engaged in combat with the West in Syria.
The man calls himself Usama Hamza Australi and says he has been with al-Qaeda since "I embraced Islam in Afghanistan in July/August 2001", shortly before the infamous September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
"I consider myself very loyal to Al-Qaeda," he is quoted saying by the magazine. "I consider myself as a member of Al-Qaeda who has come to Syriato aid Jabhat al-Nursa and help the Muslims in Syria."
He tells the magazine he has been married for 10 years and has two young children with him in Syria.
"I'm really happy to be here as a member of Al-Qaeda, as a Mujahid, but most importantly as a Muslim," he is quoted saying.
He also claims neither Al-Qaeda nor the Taliban are extremists, which he describes as "takfir" - at least, not compared with Islamic State.
"Al-Qaeda as an organisation along with the Taliban ... all of us as Mujahideen, distance outselves greatly from the takfir (extremism) methodology and ideology. ... So we are trying to bring the Muslim Ummah into a new age of Islamic honour," he is quoted saying.
"I believe that Allah would be more pleased with me if I call an ignorant individual back to Islam, or from being a sinner to a Mujahid, than for me to consider him an apostate and kill him, as do the takfiris such as IS."
The Australian Federal Police told reporters overnight that it was its long standing practice not to comment on specific security or intelligence matters.
"Anyone fighting with, providing material support to or associating with a terrorist group is committing a serious crime and will be subject to the law," the AFP said in a statement.