SINGAPORE - A 16-year-old Singaporean student has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning to attack two mosques and kill worshippers in Singapore on March 15 this year - the second anniversary of the Christchurch terror attacks.
A Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, he is the first detainee to be influenced by far-right extremist ideology and the youngest person detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities to date, said the Internal Security Department (ISD) on Wednesday (Jan 27).
The Secondary 4 Normal (Academic) student was found to have made detailed plans and preparations to conduct terrorist attacks using a machete against Muslims at two mosques here, the ISD said.
He had chosen Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang - which he intended to attack first - and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands as his targets because they were near his home, it added.
Influenced by the Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant, the youth had mapped out his route and bought a flak jacket. He intended to buy a machete on online marketplace Carousell and wanted to live-stream his planned massacre.
"He was self-radicalised, motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence. He watched the live-streamed video of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and read the manifesto of the attacker, Brenton Tarrant," said the ISD.
He had also watched Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda videos, and came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers, said the ISD.
The ISD said it was clear from his attack plans and preparations that this youth was influenced by Tarrant's actions and manifesto.
First, he planned to carry out his attacks on the anniversary of the Christchurch attacks. He had conducted online reconnaissance and research on both mosques to prepare for the attack.
He also planned to drive between the two attack sites like Tarrant, and therefore devised a plan to procure a vehicle to use during the attack, said the ISD.
In response to media queries, an ISD spokesman said the lack of a driving licence did not deter the youth. “He had viewed an online instructional video on driving and was confident he would be able to operate a vehicle,” added the spokesman.
He had planned to use a BlueSG car and intended to steal his father’s credit card to rent one.
He had watched videos on renting a BlueSG car and on operating an automatic transmission vehicle.
Third, he bought a tactical vest from Carousell last November, and intended to adorn the vest with right-wing extremist symbols and modify it so that he could strap on his mobile device to live-stream the attack, just like Tarrant did.
Detailed planning, preparation
The youth had explored various other options before deciding on the machete as his attack weapon, said the ISD.
His original plan was to use a rifle similar to that used by Tarrant. He managed to find a prospective seller via a private chat platform, but did not follow through with the purchase when he suspected it was a scam.
He nevertheless persisted in his search for firearms online, and did research online on firearms licensing requirements in Singapore. He also looked into the feasibility of joining the Singapore Rifle Association in order to gain access to firearms.
The youth gave up the idea only when he realised that it would be difficult to get his hands on one, given Singapore's strict gun-control laws, the ISD said.
He also explored making a triacetone triperoxide bomb and mimicking Tarrant's plan of setting fire to the mosques with gasoline.
He eventually dropped both ideas due to logistical and personal safety concerns.
To prepare himself for the knifing attack, the youth had watched YouTube videos, and was confident that he would be able to hit the arteries of his targets by randomly slashing at the neck and chest areas.
At the point of his arrest by the ISD, the youth had found his choice machete on Carousell which was listed for $190 but had not purchased it yet.
In further imitation of Tarrant, he had prepared two documents which he intended to disseminate prior to his attacks - one as a message to the people of France to stand against Muslims, and the second as a manifesto detailing his hatred for Islam.
The manifesto, which was unfinished when the youth was arrested, said that "violence should never be solved with peace", because peace, while "moral", is "nowhere near effective" as violence.
It borrowed heavily from Tarrant's manifesto and referred to him as a "saint" and to the Christchurch attacks as a "justifiable killing of Muslims".
"The detailed planning and preparation attests to the youth's determination to follow through with his attack plan," said the ISD.
Youth had acted alone
The 16-year-old admitted during the investigation that he could foresee only two outcomes to his plan - that he is arrested before he is able to carry out the attacks, or he executes the plan and is thereafter killed by the police.
The ISD said its investigation to date indicated that the youth had acted alone.
There was also no indication that he had tried to influence anyone with his extreme outlook or involve others in his attack plans.
His immediate family and others in his social circles were not aware of his attack plans and the depth of his hatred for Islam, said the ISD.
Asked how the youth as self-radicalised, the ISD spokesman said that while he had some friends in school, he had spent a substantial amount of time online.
It was primarily his online exposure to the extremist materials – specifically Tarrant’s live-streamed video of the attack and his manifesto, as well as the ISIS propaganda videos – that contributed to the youth’s self-radicalisation, said the spokesman.
ISD said: "This case demonstrates yet again that extreme ideas can find resonance among and radicalise Singaporeans, regardless of race or religion. It is a threat to all of us and our way of life."
The ISD urged the public to stay alert to suspicious items and individuals, and to inform the authorities by calling 999, sending an SMS to 71999, or by using the SGSecure app.