A former Australian soldier who vanished in 2001 and was long thought dead is believed to have resurfaced as a senior al-Qaeda commander in Syria.

Mathew Stewart, a former infantryman who fought in East Timor, is believed to have fled to Afghanistan after telling his parents, Vicki and Peter, that he was going on holiday. His family heard nothing more from him and held a private wake in 2004.

But it appears that the 39-year-old, who grew up on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, is training combatants from Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda.

His apparent whereabouts emerged in the latest edition of al-Qaeda’s English-language online magazine, Al Risalah, which featured an interview with a jihadist named Usama Hamza Australi. In the interview, the man said he was from Queensland, joined al-Qaeda about 14 years ago and previously served in the Australian military. These details match Stewart’s description.

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