Singapore looking at how to be helpful partner in fight against ISIS: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking with Singapore media at the Asem summit in Milan on Oct 17, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking with Singapore media at the Asem summit in Milan on Oct 17, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Militant group poses a threat to security and social cohesion, he says

Singapore is seriously considering how it can be a helpful partner in the fight against the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking at a leaders' retreat yesterday on the final day of the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) summit here, Mr Lee said Singapore welcomed the recent formation of a broad global coalition, including the United States and several Muslim countries, to combat the threat posed by ISIS.

He said there was "no purely military solution to this problem, because the situation in Iraq and Syria is complex".

"But it is still necessary to contain and weaken ISIS," he added.

Mr Lee told Singapore media later that what form the help could take "is something we are studying actively now".

Singapore's priority, he said, was the fight against terrorism and, in particular, "to protect our people and society".

"We are concerned that ISIS, or other extremist groups, can be the seed which can infect some of our people and mislead them, and cause them to have strange and dangerous ideas," he said.

His remarks come as countries grapple with the security threat posed by their nationals travelling to Syria and Iraq.

ISIS has made considerable gains in these two countries while a US-led coalition has been conducting air strikes over the past four weeks to cripple the group.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to discuss the global coalition against ISIS with visiting Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi over the weekend and call for more cooperation to stop and track the flow of fighters.

Mr Kerry will likely cover similar ground with new Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak next week when he visits Jakarta for Mr Joko's inauguration.

More than 200 people from South-east Asia are estimated to have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, including at least two Singaporeans.

Singapore, Mr Lee told Asem leaders, takes the ISIS threat seriously because it has a direct impact on its security and social cohesion.

"Singaporean Muslims at large actively support religious and racial harmony.

"Our Muslim religious and community leaders have condemned the ISIS unequivocally, including the Singapore Mufti, who has reminded Muslims not to be influenced by those who arbitrarily call for jihad in the name of Islam," he said.

He also noted that the Religious Rehabilitation Group had raised awareness of the dangers of the Syrian conflict "and debunked misconceptions that fighting in Syria is a form of jihad".

Despite such efforts, extremist groups like ISIS remain a threat, he said.

"Battle-hardened and radicalised returnees can return to Singapore and carry out attacks on home soil, or collaborate with terrorist groups in our region, like the Jemaah Islamiah network and its reincarnations," he said.

The risk was not just direct casualties from a terrorist attack, but also "long-term damage to racial and religious harmony".

Mr Lee told the leaders this was why Singapore co-sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution requiring all nations to adopt laws to make it a serious crime for their nationals to, among other things, join extremist groups like ISIS.

zakirh@sph.com.sg