Ministers weigh in on terror arrests

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans have to be more watchful, and take the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and radicalisation seriously, but there is no need to be overly paranoid and let the recent terror scares affect daily lives.

This was the message from Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday, as he called for more to be done to reach out to Muslim youths who may be isolated and get them more involved in the larger community.

Dr Yaacob, who is Communications and Information Minister, also said parents, friends and teachers could be sensitive to tell-tale signs, such as when an individual displays drastic changes in his behaviour, and be ready to report to the authorities if they suspect that someone is being radicalised.

"I know it's difficult for parents to reveal to the authorities some of the challenges that their kids may be facing," he told The Sunday Times. "But at the end of the day, if parents feel they are unable to help their kids, the best recourse is to turn to people who know how to."

He noted that there are a host of resources to tap into, including religious teachers and government agencies, and appealed to parents to employ as many as possible. "It's really for helping him or her, and to help the community and to help the family," he said.

Dr Yaacob was among several ministers who commented yesterday on last week's announcement that 19-year-old student M. Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i had been detained under the Internal Security Act in April. He had planned to join ISIS, but if he failed to leave Singapore for Syria, he intended to kill President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

A 17-year-old student has also been arrested and is being investigated over his radicalisation.

Asked what could have attracted them to ISIS' ideology, Dr Yaacob highlighted how such youths are typically isolated from their families and communities.

"They are looking for a cause, a challenge, answers. Maybe ISIS offers something to them. This is where an alternative narrative is important, for us to tell them that this is wrong and there is another thing better for you," he said.

He stressed the need to reach out to such youths and guide them towards constructive activities, such as charitable work and youth groups: "Rather than leave them alone, we should engage them."

He cited yesterday's launch of the Wakaf Heritage Trail, which saw 180 students aged 11 to 18 join a race around Kampong Glam, as an instance of such engagement.

Dr Yaacob also later attended a networking session with participants in Mendaki's youth mentoring programme, and shared his experiences as a former mentor.

Separately, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the true strength of a society is not just in whether it can prevent terrorist activity, but how it recovers when something does happen.

"This can't be done by the Government alone. It has got to be the community," he said at the launch of the two-day National Futsal Championship, which kicked off with an exhibition match between teams with players of different races and faiths.

"Every event like this which brings together people and community leaders... builds strength within society. That is fundamental."

And Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran told Tamil Murasu the terror threat is a problem faced by society as a whole and not just one particular community's challenge.

"The consequences of those wrongful actions will have adverse impact on all of us, regardless of the communities or religious backgrounds we belong to. The nature of the threat is such that it requires all of us to step forward," he said.

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