By Jalil Hamid
KOTA BHARU, Malaysia (Reuters) - The spiritual leader of Malaysia's conservative Islamic opposition denounced on Friday this week's attack by Thai security forces on a mosque in southern Thailand, in which 34 young militants were killed.
The violence just across Malaysia's border, in which more than 100 young Muslims in all were killed after they attacked security posts, has outraged many of the country's majority Muslim Malays.
"Islam forbids Muslims from attacking churches or temples," Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the spiritual leader of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), told Reuters after delivering his weekly sermon.
"Even in times of war, Muslims cannot attack people taking shelter in churches. So the attack on the mosque is totally unacceptable," said Nik Aziz, who is also chief minister of the opposition-held state of Kelantan.
Most of Buddhist Thailand's Muslim minority in its deep south are ethnic Malays, sharing the same language and religion as their cousins in Malaysia.
The region was home to a low-key Muslim separatist rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s, and Thai security forces have long suspected links between militants in Thailand and Malaysia.
A spate of attacks there since January this year has raised fears a new generation of militant Islamic separatists has come of age, throwing the spotlight once again on cross-border links.
Muslims in northern Malaysia are referring to Wednesday's violence, in particular the attack by Thai forces on the mosque in Pattani town where some of the militants had fled, as "the massacre of Pattani."
PAS youth chief Sallehuddin Ayob said Thai authorities had to be held responsible for the high death toll.
"This is an oppression, a massacre against Muslims. Until now, it has not been able to prove that those people were terrorists," he said.
Malaysian businessman Cik Husin Cik Harun, a Muslim who lives near the border and has relatives in Thailand, said Thai Muslims had long been neglected by their government.
"There are no jobs, the people are poor and they distrust the Thai officials running the southern provinces," he said.
In what were typical Friday prayers in the rural northeastern state, thousands of Muslims loyal to Nik Aziz filled the streets surrounding PAS headquarters to hear his sermon.
Men and women -- the latter covered head to toe -- sat in separate sections. Some jotted notes during the hour-long sermon while others read newspaper reports about the clashes in Thailand.
Many said they planned to hold special prayers for the slain Thai Muslims.
Luthi Aziz Hamzah, a 42-year-old Indonesian working in Kelantan, said he hoped God would reward those Muslims who died in the name of Islam.
"The Thais attacked the mosque and fired all over the place. This proved that they had no respect for freedom of religion, freedom to practice jihad (holy struggle).
"They slaughter people and hopefully God will punish those who oppress the Muslims."
But the normally outspoken Nik Aziz refrained from criticizing Thailand over the violence saying he would not interfere in the domestic affairs of another country. (Reuters)