A former extremist group member who was involved in the fighting in Afghanistan, has turned over a new leaf and returned to the UK to run a charity organisation in the hope of preventing young people from going astray with their own radical thoughts.

Muhammad Manwar Ali is the chief executive of Jimas, a Muslim educational charity. He left England after graduating from university 33 years ago and joined an extremist group in Afghanistan. He said he spent 15 terrible years with them.

"Some of it was fighting actually at the battlefront, shooting and shelling. So looking back I would not recommend to anyone to get involved in such situations without adequate knowledge," Ali said. "I believe we have been causing more harm than good."

Ali said leaving the group was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It made him aware that what the extremists' views conflicted with his original intention of helping others when he found that many locals were not willing to join extremist groups and many children lost their families as well as opportunities to go to school after the conflicts.

He said: "Those kids that came running up to me and said: 'Take us back to England, for education.' You know they are brave, they mean well, and they come to you and anything to get out of that country, that situation just to go to school, to have education, have good life."

Ali returned to England and set up his foundation in Ipswich in 2008. Besides helping people get out of their difficulties, he also offers free public lectures in a bid to persuade young people looking to join extremist groups to change their minds.

Ali also takes part in social activities with other former extremist group members in the hope of saving more people with their own experiences.

"We should own the responsibility to talk about the issues that confront us, good things or bad things, but openly talk about them. And it's good to have a concern and have radical opinions and thoughts, but you should never resort to violence and then a blanket hatred for other people," said Ali.