ISIS bride and a fighter from Singapore said to have died in Syria

Left: Australian Yasin Rizvic (in grey) and his Singaporean wife, Fauziah Begum Khamal Bacha, were said to be killed in Syria where they had joined ISIS. PHOTO: ABC NEWS
Australian Yasin Rizvic (in grey) and his Singaporean wife, Fauziah Begum Khamal Bacha, were said to be killed in Syria where they had joined ISIS. PHOTO: ABC NEWS

Terror threat remains a key concern, says Shanmugam, stressing need to be alert

A Singaporean woman who travelled to Syria with her Bosnia-born husband to join terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is reportedly dead, and three of their children are being sent back to Australia.

Fauziah Begum Khamal Bacha, who was living in Melbourne, is one of four radicalised Singaporeans known to have taken part in the Syrian conflict. Her husband, Yasin Rizvic, and their eldest son are also said to be dead.

The three surviving children - two girls and a boy - are Australian citizens between the ages of six and 12.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and his ministry disclosed Fauziah's involvement in the conflict last week while giving an update on the terror threat to Singapore. No further details on her are available, but Australian media reported the family left for Syria five years ago.

Radical ideology remains a key concern in the wake of the terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March and in Sri Lanka in April, and as foreign ISIS fighters return to their home regions and regroup.

Another Singaporean ISIS fighter, Megat Shahdan Abdul Samad, has also reportedly been killed in the conflict zone, but the authorities have yet to get confirmation of this.

In an interview with The Sunday Times and Today, Mr Shanmugam revealed that Shahdan, who appeared in ISIS recruitment videos, had encouraged his friends to stage attacks here. "He wanted somebody to take a lorry and drive into a Thaipusam crowd," said the minister.

 
 
 

"ISD worked behind the scenes to ensure that no one answered his various exhortations," the minister added, referring to the Internal Security Department.

Two other Singaporeans - former supermarket manager Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali and Maimunah Abdul Kadir - had also travelled to Syria with their families. The Ministry of Home Affairs said it was not able to comment further on their whereabouts.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that while the terror group may have lost physical territory, the threat it poses is not completely over.

He noted that Sri Lanka attack mastermind and suicide-bomber Zahran Hashim was in contact with someone in Singapore. His follower, licensed money changer Kuthubdeen Haja Najumudeen, was detained in May and the ministry disclosed his arrest last month.

There is therefore a need for Singapore to remain alert and able to deal with terror from various aspects, including in maintaining harmony between different communities and assuring the majority in each community that the Government treats everyone equally, the minister said.

"It's only when you can assure the majority in each community that we are fair and we will treat everyone equally, then all the other tools can be used to deal with the small minority," he said.

"If a majority in our community feel that they are disadvantaged, these tools will not be effective."

In the interview, Mr Shanmugam outlined how Singapore's approach to the terror threat continues to rest on four key pillars.

  • Law to tackle foreign interference planned

  • Singapore will introduce a new law this year to tackle the issue of foreign interference in politics, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said.

    "Foreign interference in domestic politics is not unique to Singapore. Nor is it new," he said in an interview with The Sunday Times and Today.

    "But you have seen a rise of that in recent years - the US, France, in many other places. And we will not be immune either."

    "There will be a deliberate attempt to divide the community within Singapore. There will be an attempt to interfere in our political discussions and debates.

    "All of this... has taken place, will continue to take place," he added.

    Mr Shanmugam cited the case of the Eastern Sun, an English-language daily newspaper that closed down in 1971 after the Government exposed a "black operation" by a foreign power to subvert Singapore.

    Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had noted that foreign funding meant the paper "would not oppose the People's Republic of China on major issues and would remain neutral on minor ones".

    In the interview, Mr Shanmugam added that attempts by foreign forces to influence domestic politics or opinion will remain.

    "But the means have now multiplied because of online possibilities. And it allows a foreign country to permanently keep your population in a tense situation, create trouble."

    In March, Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that Singapore was studying laws that other countries such as Germany and Australia have passed to combat foreign interference.

    In Australia, those who act on behalf of foreign countries or entities must declare the relationship or risk facing up to five years in jail. Foreign interference aimed at influencing elections or supporting foreign intelligence agencies could result in a penalty of up to 20 years in jail.

    Zakir Hussain

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One, the legal framework provided by the Internal Security Act (ISA) which enables the authorities to detain radicalised individuals early and take a zero-tolerance approach to support for terrorism.

Mr Shanmugam said it was not appropriate to try radicalised persons in open court - it could make things worse and often the evidence is based on intelligence - or to have a situation like Guantanamo Bay where the United States detains captured foreign terrorists without trial or a time frame.

"It's better to be upfront about it, have such a law and the detainees are better treated here because there's a process. It's not lock you up and the keys are thrown away. There's a two-year detention period. It gets renewed if they don't get rehabilitated," he added.

"Having the laws is one thing. Having the will to use the laws firmly, decisively is another. People know we will use them," he said, adding there are no immediate plans to amend the ISA.

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Two, community support for the law and how it is used. The minister noted that the wider community, including the Muslim community, supports the law, and community groups and leaders play an active role in combating radical ideology.

This includes the Religious Rehabilitation Group, a ground-up initiative by senior scholars to speak with the detainees, educate them about Islam, and help rehabilitate them.

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Three, rehabilitation to get detainees to understand the error of their ways and rejoin society.

Mr Shanmugam noted that Singapore's rehabilitation regime is recognised as one of the two or three more successful programmes in the world.

"We have a clear process - detain, rehabilitate and release," he said, adding that most detainees have accepted that their understanding of Islam was wrong.

But there are also some who will never change their views, "and we will have to keep them in as long as the professionals think that they are a security concern", he added.

Since 2002, over 130 individuals found to have been involved in terrorism-related activities have been dealt with. Currently, 22 persons are in detention, 26 are out on restriction orders which limit their movements, and two have had their detention orders suspended.

Still, the total number of persons on such orders under the ISA is at its highest in the last seven years, due to the spike in cases of radicalised persons dealt with from 2015, soon after ISIS emerged.

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The fourth pillar is the ability to respond rapidly to deter and deal with the aftermath of an attack.

Mr Shanmugam noted that Singapore Police Force's tactical forces have been upgraded significantly, with rapid reaction forces and quick response teams able to get anywhere in Singapore within minutes. "They are a visible show of force and visible expression of our determination to deal with this problem," he said.

Especially critical, he said, is the need to maintain harmony between different communities and faiths.

"We have to fight for the hearts and minds of people across communities. We got to keep tolerance between communities, between religions and work hard at making sure that no community feels left out and no community feels that they are going to be prejudiced or racially targeted," he said.

"Everyone needs to have the opportunities to come up in our society. They need to feel that the Government is fair, the Government is committed to their well-being and will treat everyone equally. That is critical. If any community feels that they are marginalised or disadvantaged, then that would be a problem as well," he added.

Mr Shanmugam had, last month, also announced the Government plans to update the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, which enables the authorities to step in when preachers denigrate other faiths, to deal with the prevalence of identity politics and hate speech online.

In the interview, he said that Singapore has ensured calm on this front because the authorities adopt a strict, no-nonsense approach to hate speech and incitement.

"Attacking religion, each other's religion, happens in many other countries. We don't allow it," he said. "And that has helped in reducing temperatures. That has helped in creating racial harmony."

He also noted the way New Zealanders rallied in solidarity after the Christchurch terror attack on two mosques in March, and hoped there would be a similar cohesiveness in Singapore should an attack take place.

"I need people to understand that they have a responsibility," he said. "When things happen, the on-the-ground response is going to be from people in the community, and is going to be very important."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 04, 2019, with the headline 'ISIS bride and a fighter from S'pore said to have died in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe