This story is over 5 years old.

The VICE Guide to Right Now

A 19-Year-Old Surfer Went to Syria and the AFP Want to Know Why

Last week, 19-year-old Oliver Bridgeman's passport was cancelled by the Australian government. Now they want to arrest him.

A year ago, teenager Oliver Bridgeman left his home in Toowoomba (Australia), telling his parents he was travelling to Indonesia to do aid work. Instead, Bridgeman travelled to Syria where, according to his Facebook page, he's been volunteering to help locals affected by the conflict between ISIS, rebel groups, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's forces and the Kurdish YPG.

The Australian government, it appears, doesn't believe him. Last month, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade cancelled his passport.


In February 2016, faced with an increasingly volatile situation on the ground, Bridgeman tried to return to Australia, with his parents making plans to bring him home via Singapore. However, when the 19-year-old tried to leave Syria he was told he needed to immediately surrender his passport at the nearest Australian consulate, in Turkey.

Crossing the border into Turkey, Bridgeman's lawyer explained to the ABC, is illegal and if the 19-year-old followed the government's instructions he could face 10 years in jail. Effectively, Bridgeman is stranded and stateless.

On the morning of 3 March, two Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers visited Bridgeman's home in Toowoomba, to tell his parents they'd issued a warrant for his arrest. Specifically, for "incursions into foreign countries with the intention of engaging in hostile activities."

Essentially, the AFP believes that Bridgeman has aligned himself with al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups, which could explain how he's been able to move so freely throughout northern Syria.

An AFP assessment of Bridgeman, seen by the ABC, clearly states he is "suspected by the AFP of having joined a proscribed terrorist organisation… [and] ASIO assesses that Mr Bridgeman travelled to Syria for the purpose of engaging in PMV [politically motivated violence]." No specific terrorist organisation is named in the document.

Last August, 60 Minutes tracked Bridgeman down to a small town in Syria, where he denied having joined any terrorist organisations. "I have nothing against Australia," he told them. "It's a moral obligation."

Bridgeman's lawyer has vowed to appeal his client's passport cancellation. In a post on his Facebook page, the teenager said: "No matter what the Australian government say or do, they know that I'm here to help humanity and especialy (sic) the people of Syria."