PAS expels cleric for joining jihadist activities in Syria

PAS expels cleric for joining jihadist activities in Syria
Cleric Lotfi Ariffin (left) and former drummer Ali Ukay (right) of Malay pop group Ukays.

KUALA LUMPUR - A Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) cleric has been expelled after the Islamist political party learnt of his participation in jihadist activities in Syria.

Lotfi Ariffin, a member of the party's Dewan Ulama, or the scholar's wing, admitted having left his wife and six children behind to fight in Syria, during an interview with Malaysian daily Sinar Harian in May.

He has been seen exhorting his followers in Selangor to join the war in Syria in YouTube videos, and he also posts regular updates about himself and other militants on Facebook for his nearly 19,000 followers, reported Reuters.

Among them, according to The Star newspaper, is former drummer Ali Ukay of the Malay pop group Ukays, which released a string of hit songs in the 1990s.

PAS secretary-general Mustafa Ali yesterday confirmed that Lotfi's party membership had been terminated since May 11.

"We received verified information about him leaving for Syria to join a jihad movement, so we made the decision to sack him. He no longer has any ties with PAS," Datuk Mustafa was quoted as saying on the party's news website Harakah Daily.

He said PAS, which is part of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, would expel any member involved in such a movement.

Security officials in Malaysia as well as several other Asia-Pacific countries have been on the edge lately, given the wave of Sunni Islamist rebels surging from Syria into Iraq.

The authorities are concerned that the conflict has radicalised a new generation of militants who, they say, have been brainwashed to an unprecedented degree through the use of social media.

At least 30 Malaysians and 56 Indonesians have gone to fight in Syria, the authorities estimated.

Meanwhile, Australia said around 150 of its citizens have joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq, with some taking leadership roles.

"It's a growing concern," Malaysian Deputy Home Affairs Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar was quoted as saying by Reuters. "Some Malaysians who may have been in contact with some of these people get motivated to participate. We have been arresting a lot of militants."

Since April, Malaysian police have arrested at least 16 suspected militants believed to have ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose hardline rebels have led a Sunni Muslim charge across western and northern Iraq.

This article was first published on June 27, 2014.
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