First woman held under ISA for pro-ISIS activities

22-year-old Singaporean was infant care assistant and wanted to be 'martyr's widow'

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari began to post and share pro-ISIS material online from 2014.
Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari began to post and share pro-ISIS material online from 2014.

A 22-year-old Singaporean who planned to travel to Syria with her child has become the first female here to be detained for radicalism.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was not planning any attack here, but she had visions of becoming a "martyr's widow" for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). She was detained earlier this month under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Izzah was a contract infant care assistant with a PCF Sparkletots Preschool, which is run by the PAP Community Foundation, and worked with infants aged between two months and 18 months old.

But she was also becoming deeply radicalised - a process that started in 2013. From 2014, she started to actively post and share pro-ISIS material online.

"Several of her social media platforms were taken down by administrators because of the pro-ISIS content," said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Her parents, both freelance Quranic teachers, and her sister got to know of her radical views in 2015. They tried to dissuade her but did not alert the authorities.

Instead, when Izzah was being investigated, "important evidence was destroyed by a family member relating to her plans to join ISIS", said the MHA.

This was done to minimise the seriousness of her acts. The authorities are looking into taking action against this family member.

The MHA has pointed out in recent weeks that sharing information about an individual who is becoming radicalised could prevent a terrorist act - and help the person too.

"In Izzah's case, her family members did not bring her to the attention of the authorities when she was younger and could have potentially been turned back from the path of radicalisation," the MHA said.

As matters turned out, her radicalisation grew over time. She developed a wide network of foreign online contacts, including ISIS militants and their supporters, some of whom have since died fighting in Syria. Izzah also supported ISIS' use of violence.

Since 2015, she had been looking for an ISIS supporter to marry and settle down with in Syria with her young child. She believed that, if her husband died fighting, her status as a "martyr's widow" would help her marry another ISIS fighter easily.

"She also said that she was prepared to undergo military training and engage in armed combat to defend ISIS if called upon by the terrorist group to do so," said the MHA.

She boasted to a contact in April that the authorities here had not detected her. She was detained barely two months after that.

Last year, another woman, Dian Faezah Ismail, was placed under a Restriction Order after her husband was detained for being radicalised. But Dian herself was not detained and just had her movements and activities curtailed.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said it was important to seek help early from the religious authorities in cases of radicalisation.

"We are not here to condemn the individual. We condemn the act but we want to save the individual. We want to help him or her, who has gone astray. We want to bring him or her back to the straight path," said Dr Yaacob in a video posted on Facebook.

Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean called on all communities to remain united and support the efforts of security agencies.

"While we are not immune from an attack, we must not let those who advocate or seek to commit acts of violent extremism divide us," he said in a Facebook post.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline First woman held under ISA for pro-ISIS activities. Subscribe