Singaporean housewife who plans to fight in Syria detained under ISA

ISD said Ruqayyah Ramli had persisted in communicating online with overseas ISIS supporters who were associates of her husband.
ISD said Ruqayyah Ramli had persisted in communicating online with overseas ISIS supporters who were associates of her husband.PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A 34-year-old Singaporean housewife and former religious teacher has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning to travel to Syria to take up armed violence for terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Internal Security Department (ISD) on Wednesday (June 9) said Ruqayyah Ramli was radicalised by her husband, who was arrested last year for similar offences. 

On April 15, the Malaysian High Court sentenced him to a three-year jail term for possession of terrorism-related propaganda materials.

Ruqayyah, who was detained in April, had previously been issued a restriction order (RO) under the ISA in August last year.

"Since being placed on RO, however, there has been an escalation in Ruqayyah's radical behaviour and involvement in activities prejudicial to Singapore's security," said the ISD.

"Ruqayyah has refused to make any genuine effort to participate in the rehabilitation programme, and remains entrenched in her radical beliefs. She continues to support ISIS' violent actions and believes in the use of violence against the perceived enemies of Islam."

Under the RO, a person is not allowed to change residence, employment or travel out of Singapore without official approval. He or she is also barred from issuing public statements or joining organisations without approval.

ISD said Ruqayyah persisted in communicating online with overseas ISIS supporters who were associates of her husband. She did so despite being warned that her action was a breach of her RO. 

The department told The Straits Times that she firmly believed that ISIS’ violent actions are legitimate, as they are defending oppressed Muslims in Syria.

"She was thus detained to prevent her from progressing further down the violent radical path," the ISD added.

Ruqayyah, who was accredited by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) in September 2017, has had her accreditation suspended.

Touching on her case, Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said on Facebook on Wednesday that cases of radicalisation continue to be present here, even if they may not be so readily apparent.

“Hence, we must be on the lookout among our family, friends and neighbours for individuals who could be influenced by extremist beliefs,” he added. 

In February, the ISD said Ruqayyah's husband, Mohd Firdaus Kamal Intdzam, a Malaysian who worked as a cleaner here, had been arrested under the ISA in July 2020 and deported to Malaysia.

Investigations revealed that he started being radicalised in 2016, when he went online to deepen his religious knowledge and was exposed to pro-ISIS content.

The ISD found that Firdaus had regarded a self-declared leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the true Islamic ruler. Even after ISIS' so-called caliphate fell in the late 2010s, he remained a fervent supporter by actively posting materials promoting ISIS and armed jihad on his social media accounts.

Firdaus even created an ISIS flag in March 2020, which he hung at home to show his loyalty towards the group. He believed armed jihad, or struggle in the name of Islam, was compulsory for all able-bodied Muslim men.

In addition to travelling to Syria to take up arms, Firdaus was also willing to carry out attacks against countries which he deemed to be oppressing Muslims, or which he saw as being hypocritical for aligning themselves with the West, said the ISD.

The department said on Wednesday that Ruqayyah’s two children are being looked after by her family. Assistance from the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group has been made available to the family, and an ISD aftercare officer is supporting them.

This is the second time an accredited religious teacher has been issued an order under the ISA.

In 2019, former freelance religious teacher Murad Mohd Said, a former principal of a religious school here, was placed on a RO for segregationist ideologies that promoted violence and views detrimental to Singapore's cohesion.

On Wednesday, the ISD also said a 36-year-old Singaporean, Ahmed Hussein Abdul Kadir Sheik Uduman, was issued a RO in May.

He was previously detained under the ISA in August 2018 for supporting ISIS, but this was cancelled in October 2019 after he was sentenced to 30 months in jail for terrorism-financing offences under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act.

The ISD continued to rehabilitate Hussein during his imprisonment, and it said he has since made good progress. He has been assessed to no longer pose a security threat requiring preventive detention.

The department added that it has released two self-radicalised Singaporeans from detention under the ISA in May, as they have shown good progress in their rehabilitation and were assessed to no longer pose a security threat requiring preventive detention.

The first is Mohamed Faishal Mohd Razali, 30, who was detained in April 2018 as he had aspirations of pursuing armed violence in overseas conflicts. He was released on a suspension direction in May.

A suspension direction has the same restrictions as a RO, but a person who breaches it can be automatically redetained under the ISA.

A person under a RO who persists in having radical views, as in the case of Ruqayyah, or breaches its restrictions, may be issued an order of detention.

The second person released is Kuthubdeen Haja Najumudeen, 38, who was a follower of Sri Lankan radical preacher Zahran Hashim, the mastermind of the deadly Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019. Haja was released on a RO.