Maids detained under ISA: Those open to radicalisation often lonely, seek sense of belonging, says expert

Many terrorist groups hook new members by initially appearing to espouse mainstream versions of Islam and offering recruits a sense of belonging, and foreign domestic workers may not grasp the distinction between this and more radical ideology that e
Many terrorist groups hook new members by initially appearing to espouse mainstream versions of Islam and offering recruits a sense of belonging, and foreign domestic workers may not grasp the distinction between this and more radical ideology that eventually creeps in.PHOTO: ST FILE

Religion rarely has anything to do with radicalisation, said Dr Noor Huda Ismail, who works to rehabilitate radicalised individuals.

Rather, those who buy into radical ideology are usually lonely and seeking a community to belong to, often online, said the visiting fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"It starts out normal, but then they go down a rabbit hole," he said. "They go in a completely different direction from where they started."

He was speaking to The Straits Times after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced that three radicalised Indonesian maids had been issued detention orders under the Internal Security Act while investigations into their terror financing activities are ongoing.

They had actively galvanised support online for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and donated funds to overseas-based entities for terrorism-related purposes.

Dr Noor Huda said many terrorist groups hook new members by initially appearing to espouse mainstream versions of Islam and offering recruits a sense of belonging.

 
 

Foreign domestic workers may not grasp the distinction between this and more radical ideology that eventually creeps in, he said.

MHA noted that the detained maids developed a network that included "online boyfriends" who shared their pro-ISIS ideology.

Dr Leyaket Ali Mohamed Omar, an ustaz and member of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, said some maids may even believe they have found love online. "It is a long journey," he added. "They make friends first, then they expose their agenda. These are all traps."

MHA said yesterday that terrorism continues to be a serious threat for Singapore, with radical propaganda drawing supporters and men and women equally susceptible to online radicalisation. It added: "As can be seen from overseas cases, there is an increasing trend of women taking on a variety of roles in terrorist operations."

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

It starts out normal, but then they go down a rabbit hole. They go in a completely different direction from where they started.

DR NOOR HUDA ISMAIL, a visiting fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, on how religion rarely has any link to radicalisation.

It urged foreign domestic workers to seek religious advice from legitimate sources rather than online, and exercise caution when joining groups or making friends online.

Dr Noor Huda said employers can make an effort to help maids feel more comfortable in their homes so that meaningful conversations can happen.

MHA urged people to report possible signs of radicalisation in friends, colleagues, employees or family members.

 
 

Those who know or suspect that a person has been radicalised or is engaging in terror-related activities should call the Internal Security Department's Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline on 1800-262-6473.

People who wish to clarify religious concepts can also call the Religious Rehabilitation Group's hotline on 1800-774-7747.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2019, with the headline 'Lonely and seeking a sense of belonging'. Print Edition | Subscribe