27 radicalised Bangladeshis held under ISA

They were planning attacks outside S'pore but were a serious threat to the Republic: PM

Twenty-seven Bangladeshi workers who were planning terror attacks back home have been arrested in the largest security crackdown in Singapore in 15 years.

All but one of these construction workers, aged between 25 and 40, were deported last month, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

Md Zahidul Islam Md Foyej Uddin, 32, is still here, serving a 12-week jail term for trying to leave the country illegally after learning his friends had been arrested. He will be sent home after his jail term.

The men were part of a closed religious study group that had met discreetly every week since 2013, and used the premises of a few local mosques near where some of them stayed. Most worked here for between two and seven years. They were not concentrated in any particular company, workplace or neighbourhood. They were picked up under the Internal Security Act between Nov 16 and Dec 1 last year.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "They were plotting nefarious activities in Bangladesh and other countries, and not in Singapore. But they were still a serious threat to us."

NEFARIOUS PLOT

They had become radicalised and were planning armed violence. They were plotting nefarious activities in Bangladesh and other countries, and not in Singapore. But they were still a serious threat to us.

We are tightening up our security, and acting to protect our racial and religious harmony. Radicalisation and terrorism must never take root in Singapore...

The Government will do its part, but everyone has to be on guard for suspicious activities that could harm our way of life.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, in a Facebook post yesterday.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who a day earlier underlined the radical threat, said: "They could have easily changed their minds and attacked Singapore."

Found in the men's possession was "a significant amount" of radical material, including books and videos of young children undergoing paramilitary training with the flag of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the background.

Several men shared a document, adapted from a manual for assassins, and saved under the title "Techniques of Silent Killing". It had graphic images and instructions in Bengali on how to attack and kill a victim stealthily.

All but one of the men arrested were members of the group that subscribed to extremist beliefs and the teachings of radical ideologues like Yemeni-American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a United States drone strike in 2011.

They believed they should "wage armed jihad" against the Bangladeshi government. Some considered travelling to the Middle East. The group's only non-member was in the process of becoming radicalised, supported extremist preachers and had radical materials, the ministry said, without naming him.

The men also donated money to entities believed to be linked to extremist groups in their country. They "carefully targeted the recruitment of other Bangladeshi nationals to grow their membership".

The Home Affairs Ministry said: "This is the first time Singapore has uncovered a jihadist terror cell comprising foreigners." Previously, members of the Singapore Jemaah Islamiah network, detected in 2001, were involved in terrorist incidents overseas. Last year, four Singaporeans were detained because they were planning to take part in armed violence overseas alongside ISIS.

There are an estimated 160,000 Bangladeshi nationals here, mostly work permit holders.

Bangladeshis interviewed were surprised their countrymen would plot violence while in Singapore.

Muslim leaders said the arrests signal the need to be more vigilant and to engage foreigners who worship at mosques, and prevent deviant teachings from taking root.

Bangladesh Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said officials are investigating the men.

Said Singapore's Home Affairs Ministry: "Foreigners are guests of our country and they should not abuse this privilege and use Singapore as a base to import their own domestic political agenda and carry out activities in pursuit of such an agenda."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline '27 radicalised Bangladeshis held under ISA'. Print Edition | Subscribe