JAKARTA // A former Islamist fighter and jihad mentor to Abu Qatada Al Filistini, a renowned Islamist frequently linked to Al Qaeda, has told of how his radical thinking transformed while he was preaching jihad in Australia.
Abdulrahman Ayoub was one of many young Muslims lured into fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
He was 17 when his school teacher invited him to join the Islamic State of Indonesia guerilla group in 1983. He then moved to a school headed by Islamist leaders Abdullah Sungkar, who died in 1999, and Abubakar Bashir, who is now in prison and who publicly pledged allegiance to Isis in 2014.
“I was tempted to join because I did not have knowledge of religion, and I was impressed by Abdullah Sungkar,” said the 53-year-old.
“He was strong, brave and memorised the Quran. Young men get attracted to such a character because there was no proper Islamic education.”
After graduating from jihad camp as a platoon commander in 1989, he was ordered to train the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
“For five years I was the deputy camp chief at the Afghanistan border with Pakistan. I fought against Russia until 1992.”
He then returned to Malaysia, where he met with Abu Qatada, who would later be linked with terrorism by authorities in the UK, who detained him.
“He was a scholar in a takfiri group, and was the teacher of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi [the Isis leader].
“I spent five months with him in Malaysia. I had just returned from Afghanistan and he was heading there, so he learnt Farsi and jihad matters from me.”
Mr Ayoub then headed to the Philippines to join the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Five years later, JI (Jama’ah Islamiya) - a sub-group that split form the Islamic State of Indonesia - sent him to Australia in 1997.
At the time JI had activities in four regions, including Australia.
“Not for military coaching or setting a camp, only for da’wa (preaching),” Mr Ayoub said. “For five years we did not carry any attacks or bombing, only recruiting cadets and financing.”
During the five years he spent there, he got the chance to meet and discuss Islamic issues with scholars who had studied in Saudi Arabia.
“And after a year, my understanding started to change, from jihadist to Salafiya, which call for Islam as a mercy to the worlds.
“This understanding suits the modern times, and the scholars had good understanding of the Quran and Sunnah.”
He travelled back to Indonesia after the September 11 attacks on the US but “I could not publicly leave JI straight away because they were very powerful then”.
However, after the second Bali bombings, in 2005, in which 20 people were killed, he wrote a letter to Abubakar Bashir to say that he will “no longer be a takfiri or a jihadist”.
“He got mad at me,” he recalled, “but, anyway, he is in prison.”
As a JI member, Mr Ayoub was questioned by Indonesian intelligence after the 2002 Bali attacks. However, he was not detained because he did not have any connection to the bombings.
Since his denunciation of jihad, he has spent his time preaching religion at local mosques and he joined Nasir Abas and other former Afghanistan jihadists in their counter-terrorism activities and lectures.