Officer 'didn't show obvious signs of radicalisation when hired'

The two Singaporean auxiliary police officers who have been arrested under the Internal Security Act for their links to terrorism were fellow Aetos officers at Woodlands Checkpoint. Last night, the Home Affairs Ministry spelt out the stringent select
The two Singaporean auxiliary police officers who have been arrested under the Internal Security Act for their links to terrorism were fellow Aetos officers at Woodlands Checkpoint. Last night, the Home Affairs Ministry spelt out the stringent selection criteria for officers.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Shanmugam cautions employers against looking at race or religion when hiring

To vet Muslim candidates any differently from others when hiring people could backfire, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

In any case, no vetting process would have detected an auxiliary police officer's radical leanings when he joined the force, he added.

He told reporters there were no obvious signs that Muhammad Khairul Mohamad, who has been detained under the Internal Security Act for planning to fight in Syria, had been radicalised.

Khairul, 24, had studied at the Institute of Technical Education and held several odd jobs before joining Aetos in 2015, where his most recent duty was to help control traffic.

He had begun reading about the conflict in Syria online in 2012 and, in 2014, tried reaching out to a foreign militant and supposed supporters of the Free Syrian Army.

Mr Shanmugam said there were no obvious signs of radicalisation when he was hired in 2015. "It would be very wrong to suggest that employers start vetting Muslim candidates in a different way. That will have the very opposite effect of what you want," he said.

He was commenting on the arrests of Khairul and a fellow officer for terror-related offences.

Last night, the Home Affairs Ministry spelt out the stringent selection criteria for officers, including doing security and background checks.

The ministry also strongly urged people not to let the duo's actions diminish the good work of the wider pool of Muslim police officers: "The overwhelming majority of our Muslim police officers perform their duties diligently."

Mr Shanmugam also cautioned employers against thinking along racial lines, or looking at the race or religion of potential hires.

He added that Singapore's social compact is strong enough to withstand the latest arrests, and the firm bonds between the different races and religions will stand the country in good stead.

  • Helplines

  • Internal Security Department: 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD)

    Religious Rehabilitation Group: 1800-7747-747

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

Still, observers stressed the need to prevent radicalisation, especially among security staff.

Aetos said its officers must meet stringent selection criteria and undergo a strict testing regime, but it is "neither easy nor always possible to detect signs of radicalisation in every case".

It reminded employees to report unusual behaviour among their colleagues so they can get help, and said leaders and commanders will continue to hold regular dialogues with front-line officers.

Private security firm Certis Cisco said it has a whistleblower policy for officers to report wrongdoing without fear of reprisal.

This allows the company to detect malpractices and misconduct, as well as officers who harbour radicalised ideologies or abnormal tendencies, its spokesman said.

Mr Remy Mahzam, an associate research fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, suggested that all front-line officers could be subjected to a more serious screening process, where their inclinations would be assessed through interviews, aptitude tests and personality assessments.

Such examination could include questions on their perspective on their country, multi-culturalism, religious tolerance and sensitivities towards other races and faiths, he said. But officers need to be aware of the part they play on the front lines of ensuring Singapore's safety, he added.

"Their roles are more heroic and prestigious as compared to any motivation to join extremist groups," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also warned other communities against Islamophobia.

"It is our duty to reach out and make sure that the Muslim community feels and continues to feel the bond, and be able to strengthen these bonds," he added.

At the same time, Muslims, especially community and religious leaders, must also ensure that such bonds with other groups endure.

Meanwhile, Singapore has looked to diversify its sources of auxiliary police officers.

Certis Cisco started recruitment of Taiwanese earlier this year, making them the first group of potential auxiliary police officers who are not Singaporean or Malaysian.

Mr Shanmugam noted that there are now several thousand officers from Malaysia due to the difficulty of getting more Singaporeans aboard.

"Ideally, we would like to get and fill up what we need from Singaporean sources alone. We have been forced to go overseas because we haven't been able to get Singaporeans, even though Singaporean officers get better terms than the foreign officers," he said.

"When you go overseas, I think you need to diversify your sources because if, for example, for some reason we cannot get more officers from Malaysia, we will be stuck without any other source. That is why we look at Taiwan."

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Difficult for vetting process to detect signs: Shanmugam. str.sg/4Ewp

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2017, with the headline 'Officer 'didn't show obvious signs of radicalisation when hired''. Print Edition | Subscribe