S'porean businessman sentenced to 3 years and 10 months' jail for funding terrorist acts in Syria

Mohamed Kazali Salleh (centre), who was based in Malaysia, was arrested by Malaysian Special Branch officers in December 2018.
Mohamed Kazali Salleh (centre), who was based in Malaysia, was arrested by Malaysian Special Branch officers in December 2018.PHOTO: MALAYSIA SPECIAL BRANCH’S COUNTER TERRORISM DIVISION

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean businessman gave a Malaysian man cash totalling more than $1,000 to facilitate the latter's journey to Syria to become a fighter for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mohamed Kazali Salleh, now 51, who committed the offences in 2013 and 2014, was on Thursday (Sept 9) sentenced to three years and 10 months' jail.

He admitted to two charges under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act involving RM1,000 (S$385) and US$351.75 (S$450).

A third charge under the same Act that was linked to another RM500 was considered during sentencing.

The Straits Times understands that this case marks the first time someone was prosecuted in Singapore for financing the travel of an individual to a foreign country to become, or train to become, a terrorist.

Some time in 2009, Kazali went to Malaysia and befriended a Malaysian man identified as Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin, also known as Akel Zainal.

Akel also used to be a member of 1990s Malaysian rock band Ukays.

Deputy public prosecutors Edwin Soh and Andrew Chia stated in court documents: "During this trip, Akel told the accused about his religious views, as well as his Jewish conspiracy theory - that the Jews wanted to control the economy and that people should band together to fight the Jews.

"This intrigued the accused and he kept in contact with Akel after this encounter."

The two men met each other numerous times from 2010 to 2013, attending religious sermons and political rallies in Malaysia together.

On these occasions, Akel shared his extremist ideology with Kazali.

This included the Malaysian's strong interest in becoming a mujahid - a fighter in a Muslim army - to fight against the Syrian government in order to "defend Muslims in Syria".

Kazali agreed with and supported Akel's extremist ideology.

"It was for this reason that the accused wanted to support Akel in his goal to become a mujahid," said the DPPs.

Some time in 2013, Akel told Kazali about his intention to travel to Syria to become a mujahid. Akel also mentioned that he would be joining a group called Jabhat al-Nusra or Al-Nusra Front under ISIS.

He invited Kazali to travel to Syria with him but the Singaporean told his friend to go there first.

Akel then asked Kazali for money to buy a plane ticket to Turkey from where he would make his way to Syria.

In December that year, Kazali, who ran a business in Malaysia, met Akel at the Larkin bus terminal in Johor Baru and handed him RM1,000.

The following month, Akel contacted Kazali via messaging platform WhatsApp and told the Singaporean that he needed more money for his trip.

Around Jan 25, 2014, Kazali asked his daughter to remit US$351.75 to Akel's contact in Turkey.

She carried out her father's instructions at a Western Union branch in Singapore.

Akel joined ISIS in 2014 and later took on a leadership role within the organisation, following the death of fellow Malaysian militant Muhd Wanndy Mohamed Jedi in April 2017.

The DPPs said: "Akel was also identified by the Malaysian authorities to be responsible for two ISIS-linked attack plots in Malaysia in 2019.

"These plots involved instructing two Malaysian ISIS supporters to mount attacks on places of worship and police stations in Malaysia in early 2019. These plots were eventually foiled."

Akel was subsequently killed in a Russian air strike in Syria some time in 2019, the court heard.

Malaysian Special Branch officers arrested Kazali on Dec 19, 2018.

He was taken back to Singapore and the Internal Security Department arrested him on Jan 7, 2019.

Later that month, he was issued with an Order of Detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

In an earlier statement, Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that upon conviction, the Order of Detention against Kazali will be cancelled and he will serve the sentence imposed by the court.

He will now be held separately in prison and continue to undergo rehabilitation "to prevent him from spreading his radical ideas to other inmates".

At the end of his sentence, an assessment will be made to see if he has been successfully rehabilitated or remains a threat to society.

"If he remains a threat, he may be detained further under the ISA," said the MHA.

On Thursday, the prosecutors urged the court to sentence Kazali to three years and 10 months' jail, stressing that ISIS is one of the most dangerous terrorist groups responsible for "reprehensible" terrorist attacks globally.

They added: "It should be highlighted that the accused made the conscious decision to provide money to Akel... on three separate occasions. This was not a spur of the moment and one-off offence."

Defence lawyers Noor Mohamed Marican and Mohd Munir Marican pleaded for the lowest possible sentence of 11 months' jail.

The lawyers from Marican & Associates added: "The accused has now come to realise that ISIS is a mass killing terrorist organisation whose atrocities, vision and purpose the accused unreservedly condemns."

They also said that Kazali is "committed to rehabilitating himself" so that he could return to society as a law-abiding citizen.

Under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, which was introduced in 2002 to counter terrorism financing here, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to $500,000 for each charge.