A former Australian soldier who was believed to have been killed in may be alive and fighting in Syria for al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.
On Sunday reported that the latest edition of Al Risalah magazine, which is linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, carries a profile of a man known as “hamza al-Australi”. The man says in the profile he has “been a member of al-Qaida for approximately 14 years” and that he is from Queensland.
The biographical details in the article appear to match the description of Mathew Stewart, a former Australian soldier from .
The profile says the fighter was initially taken in by the Taliban in Afghanistan, before joining al-Qaida and fighting at Tora Bora in January 2002.
It said from 2003 to 2014 he was in Waziristan and Afghanistan, and then went to to “aid Jabhat al-Nusra and help the Muslims in Syria”.
Jabhat al-Nusra is a branch of al-Qaida in Syria that was allied with Islamic State, but split from the group in February 2014.
Stewart previously served in East Timor with the before leaving the army in 2001. He crossed from Iran to Afghanistan in August 2001, and was believed to have been recruited by al-Qaida.
There have been few sightings of Stewart since he disappeared. In 2005 an al-Qaida video emerged depicting a masked solider who some believed was Stewart. His family at the time they did not believe it was him.
In 2007 Stewart may have been training with al-Qaida in Pakistan. The chief of army at the time, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, said he did not have any information “that would suggest either the veracity or not” of the claims.
Another Australian, Mostafa Mahamad Farag, holds a senior role within Jabhat al-Nusrah, and featured in a documentary the group produced in June. According to terrorism researcher Andrew Zammit, Farag and often spoke at the now-closed al-Risalah bookstore in Bankstown. It is believed he left for Syria in 2012.
A number of other Australians have died fighting with the group, including 23-year-old Roger Abbas, his gym-mate Sammy Salma, 22, and Caner Temel, another former Australian soldier who was discharged in September 2010 and reportedly killed early in 2014.
Around 120 Australians are thought to be fighting or involved with terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. Up to 42 have been killed, and around 30 have returned.