Parliament: Singapore has been strengthening laws against terrorism, says Desmond Tan

The laws include expanded prohibitions on terrorism financing and stringent controls on the sale and possession of weapons. PHOTOS: INTERNAL SECURITY DEPARTMENT

SINGAPORE - Singapore has been strengthening its laws over the years to meet the persistent threat of terrorism, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan.

These include expanded prohibitions on terrorism financing and stringent controls on the sale and possession of weapons, while highlighting the continued relevance of the Internal Security Act (ISA), Mr Tan said on Tuesday (Feb 16).

He was responding in Parliament to eight questions from four MPs on the recent arrest of the 16-year-old self-radicalised Singaporean, along with the country's measures against extremism and radicalisation.

The Protestant Christian youth was arrested in December last year, after he made detailed plans and preparations to attack Muslims at two mosques here using a machete. He is the youngest person to be dealt with under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.

Mr Tan said the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act was updated and came into force in April 2019.

"Key changes included expanding the prohibition on financing terrorism activities to include terrorism training, and increasing penalties for failing to disclose information relating to terrorism financing to the authorities," he said.

He also cited the detection and arrest of the 16-year-old youth, to underscore the continued importance of the ISA. It is a law that enables the authorities to act pre-emptively before attacks happen, thus preventing injury, loss of life and damage to Singapore's communal harmony, said Mr Tan.

The government also exercises tight control over offensive weapons and firearms here, said Mr Tan, with the Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Act passed by Parliament last month.

"It replaced the Arms and Explosives Act and strengthened our regulatory and enforcement regime," he said.

He noted that the law applies regardless of the mode of sales, be it physical retail stores or e-commerce platforms.

On Tuesday, Mr Tan also said Singapore denounces terror attacks whenever they happen, "to send a clear message about where we stand as a people on this".

"The Government has publicly condemned overseas terrorist attacks. We are also fortunate to have the support of our religious leaders, who have been proactive in publicly condemning terror attacks, and reminding their followers to stay calm and not react to expressions of extreme sentiments and acts of violence in the name of religion," he said.

Such unity was seen in the wake of the Christchurch shootings in March 2019, and again after news of the 16-year-old youth's arrest.

In response to Mr Desmond Choo's (Tampines GRC) question on whether the youth had operated as a "lone wolf", Mr Tan said that the Internal Security Department's investigations found that he was indeed operating alone, with no indication that he tried to involve others in his plans.

"This case shows clearly that violent impulses are not restricted to any particular racial or religious group. People who have been exposed to hate speech can become influenced by it," said Mr Tan.

He added that the 16-year-old youth will undergo psychological and religious counselling to correct his radical ideology and address his propensity for violence.

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