How did an ordinary Aussie kid end up on the Islamic State front line?
John Bilardi is still in shock. Today, our nation knows him as the father of ‘Jihadi’ Jake Bilardi, a young man who travelled to Iraq to become a martyr for a group he barely knew.
But, in the wake of the loss of their son in an apparent suicide attack on Iraqi forces, the Bilardi family admit that had no idea that Jake had joined IS forces until they heard about it through the media, believing he was setting off on a trip to Uganda to do ‘charity work’.
So what would make an ordinary young man pack up and leave to join the war effort of an extremist religion?
For more on this: The Why behind Jake ‘Jihadi’ Bilardi – an expert explains.
In a heart-renching interview with 60 Minutes, John Bilardi reveals he is at a loss to explain what lead to his son’s transformation from smart kid to an apparent terrorist.
“He was just a shy, lonely young man,” says his dad.
“Just out of the blue he said, ‘I’ve gone Muslim'”.
Jake grew up in a non-Islamic home in the Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn. He was the youngest of six kids. Although he was a victim of school-yard bullying, his teachers described him as ‘high-achieving’.
In a candid interview with Michael Usher, John Bilardi struggles to find words to describe his anguish and guilt over his son’s fate.
It seems that Jake’s journey to jihadism began long ago. School friends say that Jake had always been politically-minded, with a passion for geography and the Middle East.
But when his mother died of cancer at age 16 that Bilardi really began to withdraw and started seeking spiritual answers. At that time, a friend introduced him to Islam and the teen began attending different Meadow Heights mosques.
“He used to come here when we had a big lecture,” Abu Zaid, a member of the Hume Islamic Youth Centre, told Fairfax Media.
“We weren’t close to him. I didn’t see any of the people close to him.”
Those who remember him from the Mosque said his family — including two older brothers and a sister — were negative about his new religion.
There are conflicting reports about what convinced Bilardi to head to Syria and join ISIS. However, the Fairfax investigation revealed the teen began talking through online forums to someone who he believed to be an American journalist from the BBC.
It now seems clear that the person who he was talking to was not a BBC journalist – but rather was an IS recruiter.