Mother of Malaysian terrorist fears she has lost him to militancy forever: Report

MUAR - Aminah Abdul Aziz, 68, has not seen her second child for more than a decade and she seems resigned to the fact that she had lost him to the world of militancy forever.

Her 48-year-old son, Zulkifli Abd Hir, also known as Marwan, is a Malaysian terrorist who is one of the world's most wanted men.

When told that latest intelligence reports suggested that her son is still alive and a principal asset to the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf group, all Aminah could muster was "Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah)", the New Straits Times (NST) reported.

"But then, if he is dead, I will say a prayer for him," she told the newspaper.

The deep lines etched on her weary face could not hide her hopes of being reunited with her son one day. When police knocked on her door more than two years ago to tell her that her son had been killed in a pre-dawn airstrike in the southern Philippines, all she asked of them was to help bring his body home, according to NST.

Until Friday, she was still waiting to hear from them.

"I lost a child. And I cannot even bury him. This has been very painful for me,'' she told NST.

"Now, you are telling me that he is alive, that he is training others to make bombs and that the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has a bounty on his head, I really am not sure how to react to all this.

"But he is my son and if he comes back and ask for forgiveness, I will embrace him," Aminah said during an interview with NST on Friday.

Aminah gave birth to 14 children, three of whom died of natural causes. Four are still living with her.

Aminah's eyes beamed with pride, recalling her son's excellent academic performance as a student.

"Growing up, he was rarely at home as he was in a boarding school before going oversees to study. He was a good son and a responsible brother to his siblings.

"I remember him saying that he wanted to secure a good job and provide for the family. He used to take me sightseeing regularly and helped me with the household expenses. Then he was gone," she told NST, holding back tears.

Aminah said it was in the late 1990s when she first heard about her son's involvement in Kumpulan Mujahiddin Malaysia (KMM).

"I didn't even know what it was.

"Police came looking for him, asking if he had contacted us and so on. I was clueless. The villagers didn't bother us with questions. I was not sure if they were unaware or if they were just being polite," she said.

The NST first reported on June 21 that Zulkifli, who once headed KMM and was a member of Jemaah Islamiyah's (JI) central command, was back on the authorities' most wanted terrorist list.

Now believed to be in Jolo in the southern Philippines, he had allegedly trained a significant number of bombers. They included a new cadre of Malaysian militants who were looking for combat experience before joining militant groups in Syria and Iraq, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Zulkifli, who is also known as Musa among his comrades, was wanted for his alleged roles in the murder of Lunas assemblyman Dr Joe Fernandez and the bombing of a Hindu temple in Pudu, both in 2000, and the Southern Bank robbery in Petaling Jaya, in May 2001.

He then fled to Indonesia, where he was believed to be involved in the Bali bombings in 2002, which claimed more than 200 lives.

The FBI began looking for him in the southern Philippines in 2003, where he was allegedly involved in the bombing of several American interests and military bases there.

The revelation to the NST came as authorities continued to pick up more militants bound for Syria, including some who had just returned from the southern Philippines after a two-month basic training programme.

Zulkifli's 18-year-old daughter, his eldest, had little to remember her father by. Like her two siblings, she did not have photographs of them together. She vividly remembered the last time she saw him when she was in preschool.

Bearing a striking resemblance to her father, she, too, was a top student in school. She hopes to be a doctor some day.

She was one of the recipients of Johor's Excellent Student Award, after emerging among the nation's top 30 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia high achievers last year. She had secured a scholarship to pursue a degree in medicine.

The subject of her father, especially that he is a wanted man, was thorny for her.

"I do not know. I can't remember and I have nothing to say about him. It has been too long.

"So, what about the RM15 million (bounty)? Are you after the money?" she asked this writer, refusing to speak more of the man she barely knew.

The teenager, however, said she was content with living with her mother Maria and her siblings. Her mother is now the sole breadwinner of the family. She is a teacher at the nearby school and works part-time at a tuition centre.

The NST also met Zulkifli's 24-year-old sister, who recently graduated as a doctor. She recalled the day she came back from school years ago to news of her brother's involvement in terrorism.

"I was still studying when I was told that he was killed. Growing up, he often reminded us (his younger siblings) to study hard," said Zulkifli's sister, who is getting married soon.

The Special Branch, through its Counter-Terrorism Division, had been hunting down suspected militants. In recent weeks, its team had rounded up no fewer than 20 individuals. Four of them had been charged.

Their families had expressed the same worry as Zulkifli's family - that they might never see their sons, fathers and husbands again.

While many of them had made heart-wrenching pleas for these men to give up their struggles, some were resigned to the possibility that it would never happen.

An ailing mother of a young man fighting with ISIS told the NST recently that her son had told her that he was not about to come home to face the possibility of being jailed.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.