Self-radicalised parking warden detained under ISA

27-year-old was radicalised online and started preparing to carry out armed violence overseas

A Syrian army tank advancing through a street in al-Hajar al-Aswad as they push against the Islamic State (IS) group in the area on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on May 10, 2018.
A Syrian army tank advancing through a street in al-Hajar al-Aswad as they push against the Islamic State (IS) group in the area on the southern outskirts of the capital Damascus on May 10, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

A 27-year-old parking warden was detained last month under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after he became radicalised by divisive teachings online, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday.

Investigations found that Singaporean Mohamed Faishal Mohd Razali wanted to undertake armed violence overseas in various conflict zones, including Syria.

In a statement, MHA said Faishal, who was not known to be a religious person, turned to the Internet some time in mid-2016 in an attempt to improve his religious knowledge.

He began to take in the re-ligious teachings of foreign preachers, including Ismail Menk and Yusuf Estes, who are known to preach segregationist and divisive teachings.

The authorities had barred both preachers from entering Singapore last October and November, respectively, after learning that they were set to preach on a religious-themed cruise that departed from and returned here.

Faishal was also exposed to the online radical teachings of the deceased Al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, said MHA. "Over time, coupled with his weak religious foundation, he became convinced that waging armed violence was legitimate and saw that as a means of redeeming his sins," it added.

Faishal started making pre-parations to take on armed violence overseas early last year, and searched online for a "religious authority" who would support his decision.

He also consulted two friends about his plans - both disagreed and tried to dissuade him. His family did likewise when they found out, MHA said. Someone who knew of his decision alerted the authorities "so that he could be prevented from continuing down this radical path".

In response to the latest detention, experts called for more innovative solutions to prevent young people from being lured by extremist teachings. Professor Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said self-radicalisation online is a threat that has grown since 2002.

While Singapore has done well in promoting moderation and building social resilience, much of this work has been done in the physical space, he added.

Apart from building counter-extremist websites and other platforms that promote moderation, tolerance and co-existence, Singapore could be more proactive in blocking sites with extremist teachings as well, he said.

Religious Rehabilitation Group vice-chairman Mohamed Ali said: "The way forward is to equip our young people with skills and the ability to be discerning online."

While people can get religious information online, this is not religious knowledge - a point that should be made clear to them. Learning Islam the traditional way is important, he said, noting that such education takes place in person, and not online.

Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, senior director of religious policy and development at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), said the extremist teachings available online include propaganda videos by known terror groups that attempt to extol the virtues of violence by conflating it with jihad.

"That is why we must continue to protect our community by building in them religious and spiritual resilience through the correct and contextual appreciation of Islam and its teachings," he added.

He also called on friends and family members to be vigilant, and point their loved ones to avenues where credible religious teachers can answer questions on religion.

One such avenue is a network of young asatizah, or religious teachers, which will be expanded from 11 teachers now to 30 by year end. These asatizah will be trained in digital media and counselling to counter radicalisation in young people.

MHA also announced yesterday that restriction orders issued against three Singaporeans under the Internal Security Act were allowed to lapse after expiring between February and March.

The trio are former Jemaah Islamiah members Sahrudin Mohd Sapian, 62, and Mohamed Rafee Abdul Rahman, 54, and Wang Yuandongyi, 25, who had attempted to join a foreign militia group.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2018, with the headline 'Self-radicalised parking warden detained under ISA'. Print Edition | Subscribe