PETALING JAYA - South-East Asia's most wanted terrorist Zulkifli Hir @ Marwan was described as "little snake who has been blown up into a dragon".
None of his former colleagues saw Marwan, with a US$5mil reward on his head, as "the most notorious bomb expert," according to a report by Jakarta-based think tank group Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) headed by Sydney Jones.
The 18-page report "Killing Marwan in Mindanoa" released on Thursday outlined the long drawn out hunt for the Muar-born Marwan.
It also provided facts of Marwan's life and the role he played with terror networks in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
In addition to using documentary sources, IPAC interviewed five Indonesians who knew Marwan in Indonesia and the Philippines, but all asked that their names not be used.
Marwan was targeted for years by Philippines police and military, assisted by US intelligence, and he was only confirmed through DNA tests to have been killed in a Jan 25 operations at Mamasapano that cost the lives of 44 Special Action Force members.
Every time he escaped death, the IPAC report said that the media inflated his exploits and by the time he was killed, the Philippines police described him "the most notorious bomb expert not just here in South-East Asia but also in the entire world".
The report also said that one of Marwan's Indonesian associates from 2003 to 2009, called him "a little snake who has been blown up into a dragon".
However, it said Marwan had dangerous contacts, friends and in-laws.
For several years, the report said he was a source of funds and equipment for friends in both the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and he unquestionably aided and abetted terrorist attacks, it said.
But Marwan by all accounts was not a leader in Mindanao and had no special bomb-making skills; those he had were in sharp-shooting.
"A tendency to panic in crisis situations made him unwanted in battle," the report added.
The report also said that Marwan was never a member of the once-feared terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), though he had been radicalised by its Malaysia-based members and occasionally worked with them.
"He was a senior member of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM), never its leader.
"Despite many reports suggesting he was involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, he had no role whatsoever, and in any case, he was already in the Philippines when they took place.
"He was often more a burden than an asset to those who helped hide him," the report said.
It said there were many reasons for why the image was bigger than the man.
One was that he was a member of the small group of foreign jihadis operating in Mindanao that included major players like Indonesian nationals and JI members Umar Patek and Dulmatin - both of whom were involved in the Bali bombings and had similar bounties on their heads.
Marwan's stature may have been a reflection of theirs.