Staff trained to spot tell-tale signs

When an Indonesian told Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer Fadhillah he was a terrorist, she reacted without missing a beat. "I said, 'Okay, tell me more'," recalled the 31-year-old, who proceeded with the November 2015 interview at the Singapore Cruise Centre. Her full name cannot be revealed.

The man, who was one of two taken in for questioning, turned out to be making plans to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They were denied entry here and sent back to Batam that month.

"It was only the day after (the interview) that it hit me... how close it was to home," said Madam Fadhillah. "You never knew all this training you'd gone through would have taught you how to react when something happened, and to trust your gut feeling.

"I remember sitting across from him and feeling that my hairs were standing. I did not know why."

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday at the Home Team Academy's workplan seminar that Singapore has been picking up more security cases in recent years. ICA officers have been trained to read a traveller's body language and look for tell-tale signs, and such training has to continue to meet evolving challenges.

"Because of their expertise, they were able to pick up these people," he said, referring to two incidents this year, including one where eight Indonesians were found at Woodlands Checkpoint with ISIS-related images.

In Madam Fadhillah's case, the duo were assessed to be suspicious and were directed to undergo further checks upon their arrival at HarbourFront. She said a colleague later told her: "(They) were about to give their lives away to extremist groups... you saved two lives."

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Staff trained to spot tell-tale signs'. Print Edition | Subscribe