Region to build on efforts to prevent radicalisation

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (third from left) at the 13th Asean Political-Security Community Council Meeting, on Nov 20, 2015.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (third from left) at the 13th Asean Political-Security Community Council Meeting, on Nov 20, 2015.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

KUALA LUMPUR • Enforcement, security and intelligence agencies across Asean have been collaborating and sharing information to battle terrorism in recent years.

But as the terror threat poses a renewed challenge to the region, Asean countries hope to build on programmes to help extremist individuals turn over a new leaf, and prevent others from being radicalised.

After Asean ministers met to take stock of cooperation in political and security matters yesterday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said members felt dealing with terrorism cannot just be about enforcement, and military or police operations.

"There is a need to reach out to our young people, and to show them there are better and more effective ways to achieve progress, to discover identity," he said.

"These are some advantages that we have because within Asean, particularly in Malaysia and Singapore, we have experience with religious rehabilitation," he added. "So, we want to work together to expand these programmes and reach out, particularly, to young men who are the most at risk of extremism."

About 700 South-east Asians are believed to be in Syria, fighting for the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the authorities in Asean countries have prevented dozens from travelling there.

Malaysia and Singapore have worked to counsel those detained for terror links, with some success.

Singapore formed the Religious Rehabilitation Group in 2003, made up of Muslim religious leaders, to counsel detained members of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah. The leaders have also reached out to the wider public to warn them about the dangers of extremism.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters earlier this week at the annual Group of 20 Summit that of the 70 people detained for terrorism-related activities since the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, about three-quarters have been rehabilitated and released.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia will host an international conference on deradicalisation and countering violent extremism in January next year.

Lim Yan Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2015, with the headline 'Region to build on efforts to prevent radicalisation'. Print Edition | Subscribe