SINGAPORE - Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Friday (July 29) that individuals who preached extremism and motivate others to commit violence were more dangerous than those who inflict physical harm and kill.
Calling such ideologues a "dangerous, pernicious influence", he said Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff - who was detained this month (July) for terrorism-related activities - had to be arrested as he was seeking to make ordinary people into terrorists.
"He really wanted to brainwash Muslims in Singapore to reject the democratic nation state and instead have an Islamic caliphate," Mr Shanmugam said.
Zulfikar, 44, managed to radicalise two Singaporeans: security guard Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, 29, who was detained last July, and businessman Mohamad Saiddhin Abdullah, 33, who was issued with a Restriction Order this month.
Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, added that there was a clear difference between advocating a cause through social activism and glorifying terrorism under the cover of religious freedom and freedom of speech.
Zulfikar had made a number of postings on social media supporting the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"Radicalising people, recruiting people to go and fight overseas, glorifying ISIS and taking steps to say that there should be an Islamic caliphate in Singapore - I think that, for us, that crosses the line," he said.
Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean wrote in a Facebook post that the Government will take firm action against anyone "who agitates to divide us or create conflict in Singapore by making use of religious extremism".
Communications and Information Minister and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said the arrests are a stark reminder that the risks to Singapore society are real. The arrests also reflect the open and porous nature of the Internet which allows terrorist ideologies to infiltrate, he wrote in a Facebook post.
"No country can also fully block the Internet and prevent what comes in. What is more important is the resilience and cohesion of the nation and our people," he said. "Hence, quick action by citizens to report any potential threats to the authorities is critical to combat the spread of extremism."
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said he has always been worried that people can be radicalised by reading posts of people like Zulfikar.
In a Facebook post, Mr Masagos called Zulfikar's actions "reprehensible and irresponsible", noting how he "sat from an armchair in Australia and flagrantly sacrificed the lives of the gullible".
He urged his fellow Muslims to seek guidance from scholars who have proper qualifications and have always sought peaceful solutions to resolve conflicts. "Indeed we should immediately be alert and turn away from those who incite to anger and violence in every sentence they post," he wrote.
Responding to media queries, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said the ISA arrests and recent incidents worldwide showed that the threat of radicalisation and extremism is real.
Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, director of the Religious Policy Division at Muis, said: "The path to radicalisation begins with sympathising and identifying with radical ideologies.
"We must not let this take root in our society because such ideologies only seek to destroy our social fabric and harmony through their isolationist and exclusivist teachings and the rejection of the principles of a secular state such as Singapore."
Traditional Islamic concepts such as the ‘caliphate’ are also misappropriated by such groups for their destructive and violent ends, he added. "For Muslims in Singapore, there is no incompatibility nor contradiction between practising Islam and living in Singapore."
He said: "We must always seek answers from credible sources. This becomes even more important when information is readily available on open sources such as the internet and social media.”
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin posted on his Facebook page on Friday night, saying that "it's one thing to not support the Government of the day but it's another to undermine one's own country".