Singapore 'seriously considering' how it can be helpful partner in fight against ISIS: PM

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 told leaders from Asia and Europe on Friday. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FIL
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 told leaders from Asia and Europe on Friday. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

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 told leaders from Asia and Europe on Friday.

Speaking at a leaders' retreat on the final day of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit here, Mr Lee said Singapore welcomed the recent formation of a broad international coalition, including the US and many Arab countries, to combat the threat posed by ISIS.

He noted 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.

His remarks come as countries on both continents grapple with the security threat posed by their nationals travelling to Syria and Iraq, where ISIS has made considerable gains and a coalition has been conducting ongoing air strikes over the past four weeks to halt the group's advances and cripple it.

Singapore, he said, takes the threat of ISIS seriously because there is a direct impact on the country's security as well as its social cohesion.

Mr Lee noted that quite a number of people from Southeast Asia had gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, including at least two Singaporeans.

"Singapore is a multiracial society, with a substantial Muslim minority - 15 per cent of our population. Fortunately, Singaporean Muslims at large actively support religious and racial harmony," he said.

"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.

Mr Lee also noted that the Religious Rehabilitation Group, formed a decade ago after the discovery of the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah in Singapore, had raised awareness of the dangers of the Syrian conflict "and debunked misconceptions that fighting in Syria is a form of jihad".

"It also provides religious guidance to the community and faithful," he added.

"Their efforts can help to prevent the vulnerable from being led astray and drawn to ISIS."

Yet even with these efforts, extremist groups like ISIS remain a threat, Mr Lee said, citing how vulnerable individuals could be infected and self-radicalisation was a problem.

"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 the recent United Nations Security Council resolution 2178, which requires all nations to adopt laws that would make it a serious crime for their nationals, to, among others, join extremist groups such as ISIS.

He said the move "will go far in cutting financial aid and material support for ISIS, and prevent the movement of foreign terrorist fighters".