A mysterious visitor outside his western Sydney family home is the sole sign Issam El Baf can think of that something was amiss.
Mr El Baf, who’s sons are feared to have joined the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, said the unidentified man had only been friends with his son, Bilal, for a few weeks.
He would appear outside their family home “once a fortnight or a week” in his car and speak with Bilal.
“We couldn’t tell what they were doing,” Mr El Baf said.
Bilal, 25, and his three brothers, Omar, 28, Hamza, 23, and Taha, 17, left the country in November under the guise of a holiday in Thailand.
Days later Mr El Baf’s daughter received a text message saying the boys had made it to Bilad al-Sham – a phrase commonly used by jihadis to refer to Greater Syria.
Too afraid to alert her parents to the text, Mr El Baf said the family continued to the airport to meet their sons after their holiday.
But they never arrived.
Authorities tracked the sons down in Turkey after family alerted them and it’s feared the brothers have in fact since crossed the Syrian border.
Mr El Baf and his wife Bassima El Baf are at an odds to understand how their “highly educated, very good kids” were brainwashed by the “dangerous and cancerous” IS ideology.
“They have been brought up fairly highly educated, went to a good school – Malek Fahd – an Islamic school” Mr El Baf said.
“We drove them to the airport ourselves. If we knew, no way we would’ve taken them to the airport.”
Taha, a keen rugby league player, was studying at Birrong Boys High School before he left.
His brother, Hamza, worked for the government roads department, and his other siblings had stable jobs.
Mr and Mrs El Baf, who have another son and daughter still in Australia, have pleaded with their “babies” to come home.
“We appeal to our sons to recognise the damage that they have done to us,” they said in a statement read by friend and Muslim community figure Dr Jamal Rifi.
“We want them to know that we love them and continue to love them and we want them back as soon as possible.”
Unlike some before them who had fled to Syria, the El Baf boys were “clean-skins” and hadn’t been on any watch-lists that would have alerted immigration.