SINGAPORE - Self-radicalised individuals today face "more complex psychological and social issues" and Singapore is still trying to develop the right tools to rehabilitate them, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Tuesday (March 13).
To date, just 25 per cent of such individuals nabbed since 2007 have been released. The remaining are still in detention, added Mr Shanmguam, who is also Law Minister.
He said that these individuals, who tend to be radicalised by reading material online and are influenced especially by the ideology of militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are different from the wave of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) detainees caught here after the Sept 11 attacks in 2001.
Among the JI detainees, who were generally recruited directly by the South-east Asian terrorist group itself, 88 per cent so far have been successfully rehabilitated and released. There were about 40 Singaporean JI or JI-linked individuals arrested or detained at various points.
But it has been harder to rehabilitate self-radicalised people, said Mr Shanmugam.
"They hold on to their beliefs, they have a very limited understanding of Islam, they absorb whatever they see on the Internet, and they go with those views," he said.
Mr Shanmugam noted that radicalised individuals caught now are getting younger as well.
Since 2015, the authorities have picked up five teenagers aged between 17 and 19.
"These are lives wasted... we have to rehabilitate them quickly," he said.
He said: "We find a common thread when we pick them up. A heavy reliance on the Internet, social media, for information, including religious teachings. That is where the extremists, the terrorist groups operate and infect others with their propaganda.
"Generally, we find that these young people have weak religious foundations, and they fall prey easily. They don't understand the religion, and so they see something, and they get attracted to it."
Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the 14th annual retreat of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) which was set up to provide guidance to JI detainees. Today, the voluntary group of Islamic scholars and teachers has broadened its scope to include counselling self-radicalised individuals and those in support of ISIS.
The theme of the retreat was "Refuting Radical and Extremist Ideology".
A key task for the Government is to encourage greater integration within the community, stressed Mr Shanmugam.
There is also a need for various groups to get young people to visit mosques and listen to preachers there, to further their understanding of Islam, he added.
At the event, the minister also launched a new initiative to engage, educate and provide Muslim youth with a better understanding of Islam.
Called the RRG Awareness Programme for Youth, it is targeted at those aged between 16 and 25, said RRG vice-chairman Mohamed Ali.
He added that it will instil in participants teachings that value peace, tolerance, respect, moderation and harmonious living in a multiracial and multi-religious context.
It will also encourage participants to resist the influence of radical and extremist ideologies.
"This is a battle that has to be won," said Mr Shanmugam of the fight against radicalisation. Not doing so will have untoward consequences, he added. "Charismatic people with the wrong ideology can abuse religion, and you see the bloodshed (it causes)."