PETALING JAYA – Azman (not his real name) once had a penchant for motorbikes and living life in the fast lane.
A former â€œmat rempitâ€ who spent a lot of time on his hobby, Azman even bought helmets that cost thousands of ringgit.
But he later â€œrepentedâ€ and found a new course in life.
This culminated in him trying to enter Syria to fight for the Islamic State.
The 29-year-old from Tanjung Karang had tried to enter Syria from Turkey last July, but was prevented from doing so by Turkish police.
He was among 14 people arrested in May for links to the Islamic State. A total of 193 militants have been arrested since February 2013.
A close friend of Azman who wanted be known only as Sam said that he once had a Yamaha RXZ and had a few helmets, with the most expensive one being a Shoei (a helmet brand) that cost more than RM10,000.
â€œAlmost every night, he would go out riding with his motorcycle friends, only coming back in the early hours of the morning,â€ said Sam of his friend who is the second in a family of four.
Sam had lost contact with Azman since secondary school but the pair were reunited four years ago when Sam hired him to work as a mechanic at a car workshop in Petaling Jaya.
At the time, Azman, who comes from a poor family had just been retrenched from work as a technician at a local airlines.
Azman was a dedicated, competent and honest worker who was very valuable to the company, said Sam.
About a year later, Sam noticed a change in Azman, saying that he had become more religious, spending a lot of time in the mosque. Azman also spent less time on his motorcycles.
â€œThere was a drastic change in him. He was praying more and was always telling me not to womanise and drink,â€ said Sam.
Azman left to work at another workshop two years on although they remained in touch.
Early last year, Sam said Azman sold off his motorcycle and accessories. It was about this same time that Azman started talking about jihad and an armed struggle, said Sam.
Sam believes that Azman was radicalised over the Internet, particularly through people he met on Facebook. And around July last year during the Hari Raya period, Azman suddenly went missing.
When one of their mutual friends told Sam that Azman might have gone to Syria, suddenly everything clicked.
It turned out that Azman had booked a return ticket to Istanbul, paying for two weeks of accommodation to avoid being singled out by Turkish authorities. Azman had gone to Turkey with a fellow Malaysian, said Sam.
From Istanbul the duo took a flight to the city of Adana where they were picked up by members of the Islamic State. They were taken to a bungalow, where they stayed with people from all around the world.
After a few days, they were on their way to Gaziantep, the Turkish town bordering Syria in a Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) when the police stopped them.
Everyone in the car was brought to a lock-up. After spending a few days in detention, Azman and his friend were allowed to leave Turkey as they had return tickets.
Before leaving his lock-up, Azman gave US$4,000 (RM16,400) to the others stuck in detention said Sam.
Azman was not arrested upon arrival back home in Malaysia and he told Sam everything that happened.
Sam gave Azman a job at his own workshop in Tanjung Karang so that he could get over what had happened to him.
Last month however, Azman was nabbed by the police. Sam believes that his friend is a good person and could change his ways.
â€œHe isnâ€™t a bad person. He just stepped onto the wrong path. He has told me that he wants to change,â€ said Sam. – The Star Online