16-year-old detained under ISA for planning mosque attacks to receive religious, psychological counselling

The youth had chosen Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang (left) and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands as his targets. ST PHOTOS: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - The 16-year-old student who has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning terrorist attacks on two mosques will receive Christian religious counselling to correct misconceptions he may have about his religion.

The Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity will also go for psychological counselling to address his propensity to violence and vulnerability to radical influences, said the Internal Security Department (ISD) on Wednesday (Jan 27).

There will be mentoring on pro-social behaviour as well for the youth, who is the first detainee influenced by far-right extremist ideology.

Arrangements have also been made for him to continue his education while in detention, said the ISD.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore's approach of providing religious counselling to radicalised youths is better for their rehabilitation than charging and imprisoning them.

The 16-year-old youth is the youngest person to date to be dealt with under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.

"There's a reasonable expectation, that he, like many of the other boys, would eventually understand what their religion is about, and can actually get rehabilitated," Mr Shanmugam told reporters at the Home Team Science and Technology Agency.

Legally, there is no minimum age for a person to be dealt with under the ISA.

Due to the youth's age, special safeguards were taken during the investigations and detention, said the ISD.

For example, his mother was present during the interview prior to his arrest.

Family visits were also allowed for him during the 30-day investigation period, although such visits are typically not allowed in the first 30 days.

Mr Shanmugam also noted that Singapore adopts a consistent approach to rehabilitation, regardless of an individual's race or religion.

He cited the example of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, which was set up after the 9/11 terror attacks to explain how the counselling takes place.

The group, formed by Islamic scholars and teachers, receives some administrative support from the Government but operates independently, he said.

The members counsel the detainees and explain to them what the religion is really about and where they have gone wrong in their understanding of their religion, he added.

"In the case of some of the detainees, it didn't take very long... After one period of detention - two years, 2½ years - some of them were able to be released," he said.

"Some were very fixed in their views, and continued to believe in violence, and it takes a longer period. So how long it takes depends on the individual involved and the framework."

Mr Shanmugam noted that the 16-year-old's arrest is part of a worrying trend. Since 2015, seven young people under the age of 20 have been arrested under the ISA after getting radicalised through the Internet. Four have been detained, while three were served with restriction orders.

"They accessed the Internet, they get self-radicalised," he told reporters at the Home Team Science and Technology Agency.

He added that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth are also aware of this trend.

The ministries are putting in a lot of effort to address the issue, which is why there are fewer such cases here than in other places, he said.

But Mr Shanmugam also sounded a word of caution: "Nevertheless, there is this tide that's coming in. I want to be realistic about it. We will do our best, society does its best, parents do their best.

"But nevertheless, you must expect that increasingly, because it is so prevalent elsewhere, across religions - not just any specific religion - you must expect those influences to seep in, somewhat. We can just do our best to try and make sure that we're not overwhelmed."

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