Belfast Telegraph

Derryman's journey from disillusioned teen to Syrian jihadist leaves neighbours at complete loss

By Chris Kilpatrick and Nevin Farrell

Neighbours and friends of a jihadist from Northern Ireland have urged others not to follow his path to the Middle East after the beheading of an American journalist.

The international spotlight has fallen on westerners involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq after a British man, with a London accent, appeared in the shocking video of the murder of James Foley.

Eamon Bradley left his Melmore Gardens home in the Creggan area of Londonderry earlier this year, telling his family he was off on holiday to Turkey.

But the 25-year-old travelled to the Middle East to join Syrian rebels battling against the country's president.

Since then he has been pictured with AK-47 assault rifles and on horseback dressed in militia clothing.

It is not known whether he has aligned himself with the Islamic State terror group behind brutal attacks in the region, including the beheading of US journalist Mr Foley.

In an online blog, Mr Bradley said he was not afraid of death and was prepared to become a martyr. The Derry man's family declined to comment when asked about him at their home yesterday. But neighbours said they were shocked a person from their street would take up arms many miles from home. Many seemed bewildered over how Mr Bradley got caught up in the Syrian rebel movement.

One said: "I was in shock that somebody from my street would do what he did and following the shocking beheading video, I hope nobody else would follow him out there, but his trip out there brings it all closer to home."

A woman who moved into the area six months ago said that she was stunned at the revelations.

And at a nearby shop, a worker said the direction in life taken by Mr Bradley was confusing.

She said: "I used to run about with him when I was about 16 and it was a shock, big time, what happened to him. He was a nice fella."

A customer added: "The Bradleys are a good family."

Other neighbours at Melmore Gardens, where one house had a Palestinian flag flying outside, said: "He was just somebody's son and who knows why he went out there."

Another neighbour said: "After all this stuff came out, some people said they thought he was a bit strange and although he did keep himself to himself, he always would have spoken to you when he met you in the street but after what he has got involved in, I wouldn't think he would be able to come home again without being arrested".

In his younger days Mr Bradley would have walked the quarter of a mile from his home down Westway to St Joseph's Boys' School.

Staff at the school did not wish to comment on the life of their former pupil yesterday.

A short distance from the Bradley home, there is 'Free Gaza' graffiti, and the hills of Donegal can be seen.

The jihadi recruit has now swapped those views for the sands of Syria and beyond.

The PSNI searched the Bradley home previously, removing a number of items including mobile phones.

British intelligence this week said up to 500 people have travelled from the UK to take part in bloody conflicts in the Middle East.

Friends of the Derry man appear to be confused about his decision to convert to Islam.

The former St Joseph's student lists a number of books he is interested in on his Facebook site, including the Koran and Medicine Of The Prophet.

Friends on the site include a number of people based in the Middle East.

In his online blog, Bradley told how he battled drugs and was disillusioned with education as a youth. He said he was "empty inside", and attempted to overdose on prescription drugs.

"It was around this time Allah Most Great showed me the way," he wrote in the blog.

Of the September 11 attacks of 2001, he said: "I was also looking at the Twin Towers on YouTube quite a lot and I was convinced that it wasn't what it seemed to be."

He added: "Today's world is difficult for every individual in different ways.

"But if we keep hold of the rope of Allah with even one hand there is a way out."

His case has raised the easy way in which the world of extremists in the Middle East has been opened to a young man in Derry from computer access.

A brother of Bradley previously denied he had aligned himself with Islamic State. He said: "My ma and da were worried about that last week and my da texted and asked what about this religious crowd and he said, 'Listen, we're against them ones, we're fighting against them'."

He insisted his sibling was not an extremist.

The FBI and British security services continue to work to identify the Islamic State murderer of Mr Foley.

Among the techniques being used is facial-mapping, which has led to the conviction of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.

Mr Foley was described as a "brave and tireless journalist".

A video released on Tuesday showed his beheading.

He was abducted in Syria in November 2012, while reporting on the civil war for Agence France-Press (AFP) and US media company GlobalPost.

Background

Eamon Bradley (25) is from the Creggan area of Derry. He left his home in Melmore Gardens earlier this year, telling his family he was going to Turkey. But the young man turned up in the Middle East where he had joined Syrian rebels. Since then he has been pictured with an AK-47 assault rifle and wearing militia clothing. Mr Bradley's brother has previously denied his brother is aligned with Islamic State (IS).

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