SINGAPORE - The 19-year-old student detained last month for planning to join terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) intended to kill President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong if he could not leave Singapore for Syria, Mr Lee disclosed on Friday.
His comments, in a speech at the opening of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, come two days after the Ministry of Home Affairs announced it had detained M Arifil Azim Putra Norja’i, and arrested another 17-year-old student who had been radicalised for further investigations.
The ministry had said Arifil gave considerable thought to how he would attack key facilities and assassinate government leaders, but did not go into details.
On Friday, Mr Lee said of his case: "This is why Singapore takes terrorism, and in particular ISIS, very, very seriously. The threat is no longer over there, it is over here."
Mr Lee also announced that Singapore’s deployment of a KC-135 tanker refueling aircraft to the Middle East started on Friday. The tanker is part of Singapore’s participation in the international coalition against ISIS.
In his speech, Mr Lee said terrorism was not an entirely new phenomenon, and various politically-motivated terror groups have largely faded away.
ISIS is a threat to all of us. Southeast Asia is a key ISIS recruitment centre. Even in Singapore, some have been led astray. We recently detained a 19-year-old student who had radicalised himself. He had planned to join ISIS in Syria. And if he couldn’t do that, he intended to assassinate the President and Prime Minister in Singapore.The threat is no longer ‘over there’. It is now ‘over here’. I spoke about this at the Shangri-La Dialogue last night, in the excerpt below. You can watch my full speech here: http://bit.ly/1LRFiZj - LHL (PMO Video by Alex Qiu and Tan Chiez How)
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, May 29, 2015
But the problem of jihadi terrorism will be around for a long time, and many societies were now finding home-grown terrorists and self-radicalised individuals who can mount attacks with minimal resources.
ISIS has managed to exploit the Internet and social media to attract over 20,000 foreign fighters from all over the world, who will pose a threat when they return.
ISIS supporters have carried out lone-wolf attacks in a number of countries, and two weeks ago, ISIS leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi repeated a call for Muslims to migrate to the Islamic state or wage war in their home countries, Mr Lee added.
ISIS has also said it intends to establish a wilayat, or province under the caliphate, in South-east Asia, which has become a key recruitment centre for the group. Over 500 Indonesians and dozens of Malaysians have joined ISIS, and its Malay Archipelago combat unit, Katibah Nusantara, has been active on social media.
Radical groups in the region have also pledged their allegiance, including Jemaah Islamiah spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir, whose followers in Singapore planned to set off truck bombs after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on America.
Several hundred terrorists in jail in Indonesia are also due to be released in the next two years, Mr Lee said.
“The idea that ISIS can turn South-east Asia into a province of a worldwide Islamic caliphate controlled by ISIS, that is a grandiose, pie-in-the-sky dream,” Mr Lee added.
“But it is not so far-fetched that ISIS could establish a base somewhere in the region, in a geographical area under its physical control like in Syria and Iraq, somewhere far from the centres of power of state governments, somewhere where the governments’ writs does not run.
“And there are quite a few such places in South-east Asia. If ISIS did that, it would pose a very serious threat to the whole of South-east Asia.”