Government takes serious view of withholding of key security info

Picture posted on social media of the Al-Khansa Brigade of ISIS.
Picture posted on social media of the Al-Khansa Brigade of ISIS.

Vital to report loved ones early if they show signs of being radicalised: MHA

The Government said yesterday it takes a serious view of any withholding of information that is crucial to national security and the safety of Singaporeans, even as it stressed the importance of family members and friends reporting early those at risk of becoming radicalised.

It is especially stern in cases where the "failure to report leads to violent activities that could kill or cause harm to others", said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a statement.

The ministry also said that reporting potentially radicalised individuals early will give them the opportunity to receive proper guidance and counselling, keeping them from being led astray by extremist ideology.

This also means they may not need to be severely dealt with under the law, it added.

The ministry made this call to the community in a statement announcing that, for the first time, a woman had been detained under the Internal Security Act for radicalism.

Detainee Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, arrested earlier this month, is a 22-year-old Singaporean who was a contract infant care assistant at a PCF Sparkletots pre- school. The centre is run by the PAP Community Foundation, the charity arm of the People's Action Party.

"The heightened terrorism threat worldwide and in Singapore makes it imperative for family members and friends to raise to the authorities anyone they suspect of being radicalised or planning terror activities," said the ministry.

  • Tell-tale signs

  • For individuals in the process of being radicalised, their family members, relatives and friends are best placed to notice the tell-tale signs, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement yesterday.

    The ministry listed some possible signs to look out for, and said the list is not exhaustive. These include:

    • Avid reading of radical materials.

    • Spreading and reposting terrorism-related pictures, videos and posts online.

    • Expressing support for terror groups.

    • Stating intentions to commit terrorist violence, or encouraging others to do so.

    The ministry stressed that while the authorities are working hard to keep Singapore safe, they cannot do it alone.

    "Every person in the community can help to protect Singapore and Singaporeans from the threat of terrorism," said the MHA.

    USEFUL HOTLINES

    Those with information on a person who may be radicalised can contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline on 1800-2626-473.

    The community can also contact the following religious authorities:

    • The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis): 6359-1199

    • The Religious Rehabilitation Group: 1800-774-7747

"Singapore can be made safer if family members and friends do this. The time between radicalisation and committing violence can be very short in some cases."

Relatives and friends, it added, are in the best position to notice possible signs of radicalisation, which include the propagating of terrorism- related images, videos and posts.

Izzah started to be radicalised by propaganda related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group on the Internet in 2013.

She was actively planning to travel with her young child to Syria to join ISIS, which has threatened attacks against Singapore.

She was prepared to take up arms in Syria on behalf of ISIS and supported its use of violence to establish its self-declared caliphate. Since 2014, she had actively posted and shared pro-ISIS materials online.

MHA said yesterday that the Government takes a stern view of anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise such violence ideologically or where the violence takes place.

It also said Izzah's family did not inform the authorities when she was younger. Potentially, she could have been turned back from the path of radicalisation, said MHA.

Izzah's parents, both freelance Quranic teachers, and one of her sisters came to know of her postings and intention to join ISIS in 2015. They tried to dissuade her on their own but were unsuccessful.

Security experts and religious leaders interviewed by The Straits Times yesterday urged the community to react swiftly in getting help.

Ustaz Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, said "a very small number" of people have asked the group for help with friends or family members who showed early signs of radicalisation, such as making pro-ISIS social media postings. The group of religious scholars and teachers then offers advice on how to debunk extremist teachings, and guides these individuals back to the right path.

"So far, none of the individuals has continued down the wrong path and to the stage that they are detained. It shows this approach - going to get help early - works," said Ustaz Mohamed.

Mr Jasminder Singh, senior analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said the authorities would likely not be so "heavy-handed" with individuals who come forward of their own accord.

"You could save the person from being embarrassed, with this stigma of being detained," he said.

Security expert Kumar Ramakrishna of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said family members of these individuals "face a hard choice", and that there has to be discussion at the community level about the gravity of what needs to be done in such situations.

"My suggestion is that if there are concerns about family members being radicalised, it should at least be a statutory requirement for that individual's family to consult the religious authorities," said Dr Kumar.

Yesterday, MHA also noted that recent attacks around the world show terrorists using easily available objects such as vehicles and knives to commit violence. Such attacks, it said, would be difficult to prevent.

"Such an act would drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims and divide our communities, which is precisely what the terrorist groups want," the ministry said.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Govt takes serious view of withholding of key security info'. Print Edition | Subscribe