What is S'pore doing to counter ISIS?

Singapore Civil Defence Force personnel attending to a "casualty" following a simulated terrorist attack at the Sports Hub during a media preview of Exercise Northstar on April 30.
Singapore Civil Defence Force personnel attending to a "casualty" following a simulated terrorist attack at the Sports Hub during a media preview of Exercise Northstar on April 30.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The importance of Singapore's ongoing efforts to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) came into focus last month, when at the swearing-in of the new Cabinet, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave a clear indication of the threat that the terrorists pose here.

Mr Lee announced that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean would remain Coordinating Minister for National Security, a post he has held since 2011, even as he then unveiled two new coordinating ministers in other areas.

"The first area is national security, which remains a vital precondition of our success," said Mr Lee. "The SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) and Home Team have kept us safe, but new dangers and threats are emerging around us."

He singled out ISIS and jihadi terrorists as a serious threat for both South-east Asia and Singapore in terms of physical safety and racial harmony.

His latest emphasis comes nearly a year after Singapore's most high-profile action against ISIS - Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen's announcement last November that the Republic would join the US-led multinational coalition to combat ISIS.

There would be no SAF troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but instead Singapore's contribution would consist of non-combat hardware and 50 to 60 personnel operating from neighbouring countries.

There would be no SAF troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but instead Singapore's contribution would consist of non-combat hardware and 50 to 60 personnel operating from neighbouring countries. These would include planning officers and an imagery analysis team. Hardware would include a tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling.

But Singapore's efforts to counter ISIS began in earnest even before it joined the global coalition, with a public stand against it on the world stage, at the United Nations General Assembly last September and at the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting a month later.

It supported a UN Security Council resolution that condemned in the strongest terms the widespread atrocities committed by ISIS, and which slapped travel bans on its leaders and froze their assets. It also co-sponsored another resolution that went one step further by requiring all nations to make it a serious, actionable crime for their nationals to join groups like ISIS.

Beyond overseas deployments and building global consensus on the world stage, Singapore also regularly drills its Home Team and the SAF in counter-terrorism exercises such as Exercise Northstar and Exercise Heartbeat, which are done on a large scale and involve multiple agencies. Next year will also see Singapore co-organise a maritime counter-terrorism exercise involving 18 countries.

But just as important in the fight against ISIS is the war on propaganda that it disseminates by social media.

Political leaders have underlined that the radical ideology and acts committed by a small misguided extremist group do not represent the majority of Muslims, who condemn these extremists as going against the teachings of Islam.

While community leaders and groups have long worked within their respective organisations to counter the propaganda of extremists, the past year has seen a ramp-up in the involvement of young people. Initiatives include mass dialogues where students can speak directly with experts, and the launch of a Muslim youth ambassadors of peace programme that will see well-grounded teens find creative solutions to reach out to their contemporaries.

The ambassador programme is a recognition that young people form part of the at-risk group, and that sometimes the most effective counsellors are their equals - rather than government-appointed experts.

Dr H.M. Saleem, vice-president of Muslim organisation Jamiyah Singapore, says: "The Malay-Muslim organisations and the Ministry of Home Affairs' officials, academics and researchers will provide the resources, while our youth bring the energy and the ability to communicate in their own lingo."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'What is S'pore doing to counter ISIS?'. Print Edition | Subscribe