Extremist influences 'may be closer to home'

Sam Tan urges Singaporeans to stay alert against such 'harmful forces'

Extremist influences "may be found closer to us than we think", warned Minister of State Sam Tan yesterday, as he urged Singaporeans to remain vigilant against such "harmful forces".

He highlighted how, just last month, Malaysian police foiled plans for a wave of bombings targeting popular nightspots in Putrajaya. The 19 suspected militants, including two housewives, who were arrested had been influenced by the terrorist group, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr Tan explained that the group hopes to establish a hardline South-east Asia Islamic "caliphate", spanning Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.

Speaking at the opening of this year's National Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC) Workshop, he said: "This episode reinforces the importance of staying vigilant.

"We should all always exercise restraint, thoughtfulness and understanding where race and religion are concerned. But we must also be vigilant against the influences which can inspire some to even contemplate acts of terror among their own people."

This is especially important given how Singaporeans are "highly interconnected" through travel and social media, stressed Mr Tan, who is Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Last week, it was reported that one local firm, Albenyahya Enterprise, had been selling flags similar to the ones associated with ISIS.

Church of St Teresa member Edwin Tan, who attended yesterday's workshop, called the episode "worrying".

The 73-year-old also said it is important for Singaporeans, especially the younger generation, to be aware of incidents here and in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, and to educate them on the importance of maintaining inter-racial and religious harmony.

According to MCCY, only about 30 of IRCC's 1,500 members are aged under 35.

"We need to engage and nurture youth leaders for the future, as well as groom second- and third-tier leaders in the IRCC. Doing so will ensure that there is continuity and leadership renewal among the committees," said Mr Sam Tan.

About 300 people from various religious organisations attended the workshop, entitled Faiths In Harmony, held at the Concorde Hotel yesterday.

The annual event aims to reinforce the importance of religious harmony, crisis preparedness and the roles that religious organisations can play in strengthening the country's social fabric.

Said Mr Azman Kassim, 53, chairman of Ulu Pandan IRCC: "We can't take things for granted. I have already alerted youth at my mosque to inform me if anyone talks to them about ISIS. We also want to let non-Muslims know that we won't use religion to strengthen any personal agenda."


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