PUTRAJAYA: When Abdul Manaf Kasmuri pledged his allegiance to al-Qaeda, it was about helping fellow Muslims being oppressed in conflict zones around the world.
However, the escalating and senseless violence perpetrated by the terror group over the years has forced the former armed forces colonel to withdraw his support.
“Back then, jihad (struggle) was very ‘clean and beautiful’, jihad was only about helping fellow Muslims without resorting to violence.
“Initially, they had my support. But their ideology changed and became twisted,” he said when met after a press conference to highlight the dangers of Islamist extremism yesterday.
It was also attended by several religious scholars, including Pahang mufti Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Rahman Osman and former Kuala Lumpur mufti Datuk Wan Zahidi Wan Teh.
Abdul Manaf, who was arrested under the Internal Security Act for militant activities, said he was raised with religious education based on Sunni teachings.
This has helped him withdraw his support for al-Qaeda when it and other Islamist militant groups grew too extreme and radicalised.
“Their supporters started believing that it’s all right and justifiable to ‘export’ violence from the battleground to other places, regardless of the consequences.
“They also started believing that if they can’t execute you for having a differing view, killing your friend or family would do.
“There is no line that they won’t cross. Whoever opposes them, it is halal (permissible) for them to kill,” he said.
This extreme ideology is similar to that of the Islamic State (IS) terror group today.
Abdul Manaf said his belief in jihad to help others began when he was sent to Bosnia for a peacekeeping mission in the early 1990s.
“The plight of the Muslims there opened my eyes and made me want to help in any way I could.
“I wouldn’t discount that there are some who joined because they genuinely wanted to help their oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters. But there are also those who think that picking up a weapon is the only way to fight back,” he said.
Abdul Manaf was arrested in February 2003 for his links with al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), another militant group.
The battle against terrorism, especially against IS, was “in many layers”, he said. “The authorities have to find a way to combat the twisted version of Islam espoused by these people and the violence that comes with it.
“They also have to tackle how their supporters in Malaysia feel about these misguided struggles.”
On Malaysia’s battle against IS, Abdul Manaf said the authorities could still fight despite “being constrained by several aspects, including human rights”.
“The authorities have a delicate balancing act to perform, ensuring human rights are maintained while hunting down IS militants.
“I speak only for myself but I see that there’s a problem because actions by the enforcement agencies are quite restricted,” he said.
Abdul Manaf was a decorated army veteran who was forced to retire in 1995 after it was found out that he had secretly supported Bosnian mujahideen fighters.
It was claimed that he was a high-ranking official with an Islamic youth organisation in Kuala Lumpur and a director of a company believed to be a front for al-Qaeda and JI at the time of his arrest.