ISIS video draws concern from Singapore Muslim leaders

More concerted effort needed to counter radical rhetoric, they say

The latest video by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) of children training with weapons, the first of its kind to be produced in Malay, yesterday drew concern from Muslim community leaders and observers in Singapore.

While they were not surprised by the latest push by the terrorist outfit to garner more support from this region, the community leaders said it highlighted the need for a more concerted effort to counter ISIS' radical rhetoric.

"They are going on the offensive and trying to make inroads into South-east Asia," said Mr Azmoon Ahmad, chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals.

To counter this, more groups can work together to educate young people about the dangers of ISIS' ideology, added Mr Azmoon, who also chairs the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) that looks after the welfare of terror detainees' families and helps reintegrate the men into society upon their release. The ACG helped organise a seminar last Saturday to educate students about the dangers of extremist ideology.

The latest video shows a group of at least 20 boys studying, praying, eating and undergoing defence and weapons lessons in territory held by ISIS.

Muslim leaders say they find it worrying because even as the vast majority reject ISIS teachings, the way the group uses children to portray a radical view of what it means to be a model believer might influence some viewers.

"They may convince their supporters to carry out attacks at home, or in countries like Singapore," said veteran mosque leader M. Abdul Rahim, 49. "As citizens, we must quickly sound out any suspicious behaviour and bring it up to the authorities."

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore said the video is part of ISIS' strategy to extend its global reach in a region with "ample opportunities due to the presence of many radical groups".

He fears returning fighters will pose a threat greater than that posed by those who returned from fighting in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Several members of the Jemaah Islamiah network in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore trained there, and plotted attacks including the 2002 Bali bombings.

SIM University student Firdaus Iskandar, 24, worries that such videos might also spur lone wolves to commit damaging acts.

He suggests schools do more to expose young people to the topic of extremism and its dangers.

"So when they go home and view such videos online, they have a knowledge base that they can rely on to understand the intent of these videos. They come in with some background and are not so easily seduced," he said.

Mr Azmoon said the latest video should also drive home the point of how far removed ISIS is from Islamic teachings.

"It's very sad because I don't know of any war, even in Prophet Muhammad's time, that uses children, what more shooting their captives. I don't know what kind of doctrine they are using."

yanliang@sph.com.sg