2 radicalised Singaporeans who intended to join ISIS in Syria detained under ISA

SINGAPORE - Two radicalised Singaporeans who intended to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been detained under the Internal Security Act.

One of them, Kuthubdeen Haja Najumudeen, 36, a licensed moneychanger, had made three visits to the suicide bomber who masterminded the April terror attacks in Sri Lanka and donated funds to his group.

He was arrested in May, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement on Thursday (July 25).

In a separate case, former delivery assistant Suderman Samikin, 47, had joined a pro-ISIS Facebook group and was prepared to help two pro-ISIS elements who wanted to visit Singapore to buy tactical gear to fight in Syria. He was detained earlier this month.

The MHA said that Haja had made three trips to Sri Lanka between May 2015 and October 2016 to visit radical preacher Zahran Hashim, who led the Easter bombings at churches and hotels that killed more than 250 people and injured 500 others.

Haja, who had been listening to Zahran's online religious lectures and had regularly contacted him for religious guidance since 2011, also donated funds to the cleric and his group, the National Thowheed Jamaath, said the ministry.

MHA said investigations "did not surface any indication that Haja was involved in, or had prior knowledge" of the terror attacks on April 21 in Sri Lanka.

In 2013, Haja developed an interest in ISIS when he came across news of the terrorist group online. He supported the ISIS' so-called caliphate and its violent cause, and also searched online for videos clips of atrocities and terrorist attacks linked to the group, said the MHA.

Haja conducted "extensive research" online for his plan to migrate to Syria to join the terror group, but later decided against the move, as he feared being killed or injured there, said the ministry.

"His support for ISIS, however, continued, including at the point when he was arrested in May 2019," said the MHA.

Professor of security studies Rohan Gunaratna called Zahran "one of the most dangerous terrorist leaders in Asia".

"He organised one of the deadliest terrorist attacks after 9/11," said Prof Gunaratna, from Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"It is vital to map Zahran's network outside Sri Lanka including in East Asia. The arrest of Haja in Singapore demonstrated the need for governments to work together to fight a cross border threat," said Prof Gunaratna.

Suderman, meanwhile, became radicalised after he encountered lectures by the late Anwar al-Awlaki - an Al-Qaeda ideologue who was killed in 2011 by a United States drone strike in Yemen - and ISIS' propaganda in 2013. Suderman had been searching online for information on the Syrian conflict.

Said MHA: "He soon bought into ISIS' violent ideology and by February 2014, was prepared to take up arms to fight alongside ISIS in Syria, in the belief that he would be a martyr if he died while doing so."

Suderman joined a pro-ISIS Facebook group in April that year and actively sought advice on how to join the terrorist group, and was directed to online sources where he learnt about travel routes to Syria.

While he had been prepared to help the two pro-ISIS elements in their visit to Singapore, this trip did not take place.

Suderman offered one of them financial assistance to undertake armed violence in Syria and, in turn, the duo invited him to join an overseas pro-ISIS group in which they were involved.

Suderman was in prison for drug consumption from July 2014 to June 2019. "While he was in prison, he continued to harbour intentions to join ISIS. He was arrested under the ISA upon his release," said the MHA.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said that the recent cases reinforce the "dangers of seeking religious guidance over the Internet from untrusted sources, particularly those from overseas".

It urged the Muslim community to seek religious guidance only from credible religious teachers and religious schools registered under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme.

"Despite the debunking of ISIS' radical ideologies on mainstream and social media, it is regrettable that both individuals fell prey to ISIS influence online," Muis said in a statement.

Muis said there is a need to remain vigilant against exclusivist and extremist teachings, adding that it is important for family members and friends to help an individual who shows signs of radicalisation by referring him to the relevant community organisations or authorities.

Members of the community may also contact Muis on 6359-1199, the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) helpline on 1800-774-7747 or via the RRG mobile app, and the Asatizah Youth Network via the Muslim.SG mobile app, said Muis.

Correction note: The article has been edited for clarity.

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