Tackle roots of extremism to counter ISIS, says PM Lee

Singapore plans meet on deradicalisation as military response is not enough

The response to the threat of militant group ISIS cannot be purely military, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a meeting of the East Asia Summit (EAS), where he joined other leaders in noting that the situation in Iraq and Syria was complex and there were no simple solutions.

It was still necessary to fight, contain and weaken ISIS, but countries also had to tackle the ideological roots of extremism - the reason why ISIS has been able to attract foreign fighters from faraway regions, including South- east Asia, he added.

At least 350 South-east Asians have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside radicals there.

Mr Lee said Singapore proposed to conduct an EAS symposium on deradicalisation of extremists to share best practices among experts.

"We have a little bit of experience on this because we have been working on detainees who we picked up after Sept 11, 2001, who were connected to Al-Qaeda and who were planning several terrorist attacks in Singapore," he said.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told The Straits Times that the conference, to be called the EAS Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration, would be held next April.

It will be organised by the school and supported by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a group of local Muslim scholars who have been countering detainees' misunderstanding of religious concepts, as well as by the Government.

Singapore's approach to dealing with over 60 Jemaah Islamiah members and other radicals detained over the years has involved psychological as well as religious rehabilitation by the RRG, and seen over two-thirds of those held released and reintegrated into the community.

Mr Lee told Singapore media: "We can share our experiences, and other countries can also come and talk about how they have tried to do it and we hope that way, we can gain from the exchange."

The effort complements Singapore's contribution to a multinational coalition to combat ISIS and fits into the 18-member EAS' overall aim of strengthening peace in the Asia-Pacific.

Last week, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament that Singapore would join the 33-nation United States-led effort by contributing liaison and planning officers, a KC-135R tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling and an imagery analysis team.

Yesterday, leaders from Asean and the EAS issued strong statements on extremism. The Asean Summit chairman's statement issued by Myanmar said: "These groups not only pose a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, but also to all countries in the Middle East, and if left unchecked, to the rest of the world."

Mr Lee noted: "The fact that Malaysia and Indonesia are predominantly Muslim countries gives further credibility and weight to the statement."

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters his country was also committed to fighting ISIS, but said he put greater emphasis on a softer approach.

Beyond extremism, leaders also pledged to work together on Ebola, climate change and ensuring the stability of the wider region.

Mr Lee also thanked Myanmar President Thein Sein for his "able chairmanship" of Asean and said he looked forward to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his team chairing Asean next year.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

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