Self-radicalised youth went from ISIS supporter to star student with rehabilitation: ISD

Religious Rehabilitation Group volunteers (from left) Salim Mohamed Nasir, Muhammad Mubarak Habib Mohamed, Muhammad Shafaat Mohd Syonan and Hoirull Amri Tahiran.
Religious Rehabilitation Group volunteers (from left) Salim Mohamed Nasir, Muhammad Mubarak Habib Mohamed, Muhammad Shafaat Mohd Syonan and Hoirull Amri Tahiran.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - While many of his peers were online to chat with friends or do research for homework, Daniel (not his real name) in 2017 was using the Internet for a sinister purpose.

Only 15 years old then, he was already walking down the dark path of radicalisation - aligning himself to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, which was spreading its propaganda through online channels.

In September that year, he posted on social media images of President Halimah Yacob that he had defaced, and called on ISIS to behead her. It triggered an investigation by the Internal Security Department (ISD).

The department learnt that the boy was introduced to pro-ISIS social media groups by a foreign online contact.

Through these groups, he gained access to what he believed was exclusive ISIS content. It gave him a surge of confidence which boosted his self-esteem and sense of belonging.

Recounting the case on Wednesday (Feb 3) in a release, the ISD said Daniel became convinced that ISIS' actions were "righteous" and its fighters were "true Muslims" and the "true Islamic army".

"He also adopted the group's us-versus-them worldview and considered Muslim public officers and politicians who are working for a non-Muslim government, such as President Halimah Yacob, apostates," said the ISD.

Given his young age and the assessment that he did not pose an immediate threat, Daniel was not dealt with under the Internal Security Act then, and was instead counselled in an attempt to steer him away from problematic ideology.

But it did not work.

Daniel remained staunchly supportive of ISIS and was discovered by the ISD to be willing to help the terror group's online propaganda efforts. He was even ready to undertake other activities if called upon to do so.

In January last year, the ISD detained him.

Rehabilitation

Through the arrest, Daniel was given a "sobering wake-up call", said the department, which outlined the progress he made during his rehabilitation.

The boy, who did not fare well in school and had barely completed his Secondary 3 education, tried to get back on track.

With his school's help and the involvement of three teachers, who were volunteers with the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), Daniel worked hard at his studies.

His grades improved and he went on to score four distinctions out of five subjects when he sat the GCE N-level examinations last year - an achievement which had a positive impact on his self-esteem.

At the same time, Daniel also received psychological counselling to equip him with critical thinking skills, which the ISD said will allow him to better evaluate and discern information as well as manage his emotions better.

He has also been given religious counselling by trained experts from the RRG. Daniel, who the ISD said had a weak understanding of Islam, is currently in the process of building up his religious knowledge.

The lack of a strong religious foundation is the main cause of some young people falling prey to radicalisation, said Mr Salim Mohamed Nasir, secretariat member of the RRG.

Mr Salim, who was accompanied by other RRG members in speaking to the media on Wednesday, said that such "ignorance" could cause some young people to be easily influenced by negative affirmations they see online.

The RRG deals with such cases by simplifying the concepts of Islam for the young and through mentoring and counselling. "Basically, in terms of religious beliefs, they misunderstood the concept. They were misguided by intentions put forward to them online," said Mr Salim.

"And then when we see them at the mentoring level, we see that they realise that what they have done is not actually intended in Islam at all."