By Wong Chun Wai, Sira Habibu, Farik Zolkepli, Nicholas Cheng, and Akil Yunus
KUALA LUMPUR: Unlike the mercenaries of old who fought shy of publicity, Malaysian militants joining the “jihadist” movement in Syria are openly boasting about their exploits, posting selfies and videos on Facebook and YouTube.
At least four of them are openly sharing their photographs and experiences on social media – proof that Malaysians are actively involved in a purported holy war.
They are believed to have been recruited by the ruthless Jabhat al-Nusra or Al Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda offshoot behind decapitations and murders in Syria and Lebanon.
A search on the Internet revealed websites in Bahasa Malaysia that glorify the exploits of these Malaysian militants, including Rakyat Malaysia Bersama Revolusi Islam and Uncle Syahid Insya Allah.
The most famous of them is former PAS Dewan Ulama committee member and Kedah PAS Youth information chief Ustaz Mohd Lotfi Ariffin, whose supporters also blog about his exploits.
The Pakistani-trained religious scholar from Baling, Kedah, who was detained under the Internal Security Act for six years from 2001, has also fought in Afghanistan.
The gun-toting radical politician is believed to be among 20 Malaysians confirmed by Bukit Aman to have taken part in the uprising in Syria.
Another Malaysian militant who has surfaced prominently on pro-militant websites and blogs is former 1990s Malay pop group drummer, Akil Ukays, whose band had a string of hit songs. He is said to be a Universiti Teknologi Mara graduate.
In one video clip, a man resembling Lotfi and sporting a goatee is in a trench together with other fighters, wielding an AK-47.
At one point, a man’s voice, speaking in Bahasa Malaysia, can be heard describing what was taking place but it could not be ascertained whether it was Lotfi or someone else beside him.
The Jabhat al-Nusra group, believed to have been set up in 2012, is described as the “most aggressive and successful terror group” with strong financial backing. It has been regarded as a terrorist group by the United Nations, United States, Australia and Britain.
Two other suspected Malaysian militants have appeared in a video clip on YouTube.
The two were introduced as one Mohamed Fauzi, who now calls himself Abu Dayyan, and Abu Naeem, on the banks of the Euphrates River.
In the video, there are three men, including one Abu Issa Al-Andalusi who does most of the talking and speaks of waging “jihad”.
The clip, posted by Rakyat Malaysia Bersama Revolusi Islam, titled “Mujahideen ISIS dari Malaysia,” has Bahasa Malaysia subtitles. ISIS refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham. It is also referred to as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).
British newspapers claimed that the third man, introduced as Abu Issa Al-Andalusi, was a purported Arsenal player. But an Arsenal spokesman said the club had no record of anyone by that name.