Most Singaporeans who have been radicalised by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group were younger than 30, Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said, as he underscored the vulnerability of young people to extremist ideology shared online.
Mr Teo, the Coordinating Minister for National Security, said yesterday that five of these young people were radicalised when they were still teenagers.
This is why guidance from family, friends and religious leaders in particular is important, he said.
"We need to teach our people, especially the youth, that if they have questions on Islam, they should seek answers from the imams and asatizah who are accredited under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS), and not search on the Internet in a haphazard and unguided way," he added.
So far, 15 people have been detained or given restriction orders, which curtails an individual's movements, under the Internal Security Act ( ISA), Mr Teo said.
He spoke at an iftar, or breaking of fast, organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang.
The session was attended by community and religious leaders from different faiths, as well as Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim and Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam.
Dr Yaacob told reporters that young asatizahs, or religious teachers, can help prevent young people from being radicalised by guiding their peers who are "questioning and trying to understand Islam better".
"There are a lot of young groups out there emerging, led by young asatizahs - they can play an effective role in reaching out to those people who are troubled, and who need some help," he said.
He added that tackling radicalism has to be a joint effort between the community and the authorities.
Yesterday, Mr Teo also reiterated the terror threat facing Singapore is at the highest level since 2001 - the year the Sept 11 attacks happened.
He noted that terror groups would continue to push out extremist propaganda online, even if ISIS is eventually defeated.
He also highlighted the three rings of "trust and confidence" that have kept Singapore safe.
First, the security agencies that work around the clock.
Second, the trust and confidence that Singaporeans have in the Muslim community.
And third, the bonds that stretch across communities of different religions.
Mr Teo highlighted steps that the Muslim community has taken to counter radical ideology, including the ARS, which requires Islamic religious teachers to meet a set of requirements to teach in Singapore.
"All of us can see the significant steps that our Muslim community has taken to counter exclusivism, extremism and radical teachings," said Mr Teo.
His comments come two days after the Government revealed a woman had been detained earlier this month under the ISA for radicalism. Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, a contract infant care assistant at a pre-school, had begun to be radicalised by online propaganda in 2013. Her family found out she was getting radicalised and tried to counsel her, but did not inform the authorities.
Yesterday, Mr Teo again urged family members who feel their loved ones might possibly be radicalised to come forward and seek help early, pointing out that Izzah's radicalisation could have been prevented.
He said in Malay during his speech: "If Izzah had gone to Syria to join ISIS, Izzah's family may have lost Izzah and her daughter forever. Luckily, she was arrested in time and stopped."
RRG co-chair Ali Mohamed also urged parents to be alert if their children are "on the path to radicalism".
"It is our duty to provide advice and guidance to our children and report them to the authorities should they choose to take the path towards violence," he said.
WATCH THE VIDEO: Dr Yaacob Ibrahim on the important role of family in religious guidance. str.sg/4bXN