Community vigilance crucial to curb terrorism and radicalisation: ISD

Singapore has been training members of the community to respond directly to physical terror attacks.
Singapore has been training members of the community to respond directly to physical terror attacks.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Public vigilance is critical in preventing a terrorist attack in Singapore, especially with the growing threat of self-radicalisation.

It is not possible for security agencies here to detect every radicalised individual, said the Internal Security Department (ISD) in a report on the country's terror threat situation.

"Family, friends and colleagues are best placed to notice changes in an individual," noted the ISD in the report released on Wednesday (June 23), adding that early reporting to the authorities is crucial.

"Once they commit an act of violence, they will face much more severe penalties, and may even be liable for capital punishment."

ISD said possible signs of radicalisation include frequent surfing of radical websites and posting or sharing extremist views on social media. These views may include support or admiration for terrorists and terrorist groups.

Other possible indicators are: making remarks that promote hatred towards people of other races or religions, and expressing intent to participate in acts of violence overseas or in Singapore, as well as inciting others to join in such acts.

The report referenced the Ministry of Communications and Information's 2019 National Security Awareness Survey.

In the survey, about half the respondents said they would report signs of radicalisation in a friend or relative to the authorities.

Partnership with the community is an aspect of national security, said Nanyang Technological University professor of security studies Rohan Gunaratna.

He added that the Republic's success in stopping terrorist attacks has been due in part to the "special relationship between the state and the communities of Singapore".

However, he noted that "today, Singapore has to widen that partnership because terrorism and extremism are not only coming from a tiny group of Muslims who are misguided by radical and violent ideology but also by far right ideologies".

"In the West, especially the US and Europe, the threat by Muslim extremism and terrorism has been supplanted by right-wing groups. The Christchurch attacks (at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019) were a major turning point which galvanised a tiny segment of youths, including a Singaporean," he added.

A 16-year-old Singaporean student was detained under the Internal Security Act last December for plotting to use a machete to attack Muslims at two mosques in the Woodlands area.

He is the first detainee to be influenced by far-right extremism.

Singapore has also been training members of the community to respond directly to physical terror attacks.

Under the SGSecure programme, the proportion of residents with some emergency skills has increased from 40 per cent in 2017 to 62 per cent in 2019, the report said. These skills include first aid and operating a fire extinguisher.

SGSecure, which started in 2016, is commonly known through its mobile application.

The Government also launched the SGSecure Responders' Network in 2019. It allows people to join through the SGSecure mobile app. They can be tapped to help others in distress, such as during a minor fire.

The report stated that as at March 2021, close to 92,000 people had registered as responders.

However, observers like Singapore University of Social Sciences' head of security studies Antonio Rappa said more efforts must be made to make the SGSecure app relevant to the wider population, and understand the links between race, poverty, religion and extremism.

"There can be more buy-in from communities. The SGSecure application is not very practical at the moment and is not made relevant to people's lives," he added.

Members of the public can call the ISD hotline on 1800-2626-473 if they suspect someone is being radicalised.

If that is confirmed, the person may be referred for counselling and other mitigating measures.

"The authorities will, however, not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act to deal with individuals who are deeply radicalised or have engaged in terrorist activities," the ISD said.