16 foreigners deported after security investigation

They were among 37 people investigated as S'pore raised alert following attacks in France

The Home Team has been on heightened security alert since early September, and stepped up security measures to pre-empt copycat attacks in Singapore.
The Home Team has been on heightened security alert since early September, and stepped up security measures to pre-empt copycat attacks in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

Investigations were launched into 37 people, and 16 foreigners among them have been deported, as Singapore went on heightened security alert in the wake of recent terror attacks in France.

A radicalised 26-year-old Bangla-deshi construction worker was also arrested under the Internal Security Act on Nov 2 while being investigated for terror-related activities.

Security activities were stepped up after French magazine Charlie Hebdo republished caricatures of Prophet Muhammad on Sept 1, resulting in a spate of terrorist attacks in France - including the beheading of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb.

"In view of the deteriorating security situation, the Home Team has been on heightened alert since early September and had also stepped up its security activities to pre-empt copycat attacks in Singapore," said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday.

As a result, investigations were initiated into 14 Singaporeans and 23 foreigners for suspected radical inclinations, or for making comments that could incite violence or stoke communal unrest.

Most had supported the beheading of Mr Paty and the subsequent attacks in France and elsewhere. Some had incited violence against French President Emmanuel Macron, who had defended the cartoons. A few made derogatory comments against Muslims, said MHA.

Sixteen foreigners - 15 Bangla-deshis and one Malaysian - were repatriated after the Internal Security Department completed investigations into them. Most of the 15 Bangladeshis were working in the construction industry and had incited violence against France in social media postings.

The remaining seven foreigners are still being investigated.

The MHA said there was no indication that any of these individuals had planned any attacks or protests in Singapore.

As for the 14 Singaporeans, they hold a variety of occupations, are aged between 19 and 62, and include four women. They are still being investigated.

"Preliminary investigations have not surfaced any indication that they pose an imminent terrorism threat," said an MHA spokesman.

Speaking at a Religious Rehabilitation Group seminar yesterday, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said cartoons like the ones Charlie Hebdo published would never have been allowed in Singapore. "If you did this in Singapore, we would arrest you," he said.

He said that while both France and Singapore guarantee freedom of religion, the approaches they take are different. "France says they prefer to achieve it by taking a hands-off approach; we are interventionist. We intervene. Because we take the position that the right to speak freely goes with the duty to act responsibly."

The Government here does not allow any religious group to be attacked or insulted, he added.

Mr Paty, 47, was beheaded after he showed the cartoons to his teenage students in a lesson on free speech. Some of those investigated supported his beheading.

As the Home Team swung into action, its investigations revealed that Ahmed Faysal, the arrested Bangladeshi, had become radicalised and wanted to take up arms to support his religion.

Mr Shanmugam told reporters that the community must help counter such online radicalisation and religious leaders must explain what every religion is about.

"In Singapore, whether you're Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Taoist, or of other religions, everyone, I think, understands and promotes harmony and peace," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2020, with the headline '16 foreigners deported after security investigation'. Print Edition | Subscribe