Youth vulnerable to online radical ideology: Teo Chee Hean

Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean with community and religious leaders from different faiths at an iftar organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group on June 14, 2017.
Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean with community and religious leaders from different faiths at an iftar organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group on June 14, 2017. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean shares a meal with Ustaz Mohamad Hasbi Hassan, president of the Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association.
Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean shares a meal with Ustaz Mohamad Hasbi Hassan, president of the Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean speaking at an iftar on June 14, 2017.
Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean speaking at an iftar on June 14, 2017. ST PHOTO: DANSON CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Most Singaporeans who have been radicalised by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group were below the age of 30, Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said, underscoring the vulnerability of young people to extremist ideology shared online.

Mr Teo, the Coordinating Minister for National Security, pointed out that five of these youth were radicalised when they were still teenagers.

In all, 15 people have so far been detained or given restriction orders, which curtails an individual's movements, under the Internal Security Act( ISA).

This is why guidance from family, friends and religious leaders in particular are important, said Mr Teo on Wednesday (June 14).

"We need to teach our people, especially the youths, that if they have questions on Islam, they should seek answers from the imams and asatizah who are accredited under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme; and not search on the internet in a haphazard and unguided way," said Mr Teo.

He was speaking at an iftar, or breaking of fast, organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang.

The session was attended by community and religious leaders from different faiths, as well as Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim and Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam.

Mr Teo reiterated the terror threat facing Singapore is at the highest level since 2001 - the year the September 11 attacks happened.

He noted that terror groups would continue to push out extremist propaganda online, even if ISIS is eventually defeated.

He also highlighted the three rings of "trust and confidence" that have kept Singapore safe.

First, the security agencies that work around the clock.

Second, the trust and confidence that Singaporeans have in the Muslim community.

And third, the bonds that stretch across communities of different religions.

Mr Teo highlighted steps that the Muslim community has taken to counter radical ideology, including the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, which ensures the Muslim community gets advice from credible religious teachers.

The scheme, which was made mandatory this year, requires Islamic religious teachers to meet a set of requirements to teach in Singapore.

"All of us can see the significant steps the community has taken to counter exclusivism, extremism and radicalism," said Mr Teo.

His comments come two days after the Home Affairs Ministry revealed that a woman had been detained earlier this month under the Internal Security Act for radicalism.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, a contract infant care assistant at a preschool, had begun to be radicalised by online propaganda in 2013.

Her family knew of her radicalism in 2015, but did not inform the authorities.

On Wednesday, Mr Teo again urged family members, who feel that their loved ones might possibly be radicalised, to come forward and seek help.

He pointed out that Izzah's radicalisation could have been prevented if her family had sought help earlier.

Said Mr Teo: "If Izzah had gone to Syria to join ISIS, Izzah's family may have lost Izzah and her daughter forever. Luckily, she was arrested in time and stopped."

RRG co-chair Ali Mohamed also urged parents to be alert if their children are "on the path to radicalism", pointing out that they can seek help from authorities such as RRG, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), or accredited asatizah.

"It is our duty to provide advice and guidance to our children and report them to the authorities should they choose to take the path towards violence," he said.