ISD details terror suspects' rehabilitation for first time

ISD revealed last week that a 16-year-old had been detained for planning terrorist attacks on two mosques. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Terror suspects in Singapore detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) undergo a rehabilitation process which involves religious, psychological and social aspects.

The approach is a "holistic, intensive and long-term one", the Internal Security Department (ISD) said in a media statement on Wednesday (Feb 3).

The statement was the first time the ISD disclosed in detail how terror suspects are handled.

It came a week after the department revealed that a 16-year-old Protestant Christian youth had been detained under the ISA in December for planning terrorist attacks on two mosques.

Each rehabilitation programme is customised to a detainee or Restriction Order (RO) supervisee's unique circumstances, with extensive collaboration between the various rehabilitation stakeholders to maximise the chances of successful rehabilitation for the individuals, said the ISD.

"ISD realised early on that we cannot rely on kinetic approaches alone to tackle the terrorism threat facing us because, ultimately, we are engaged in a battle for hearts and minds," an ISD spokesman said.

He added that the effort to combat terrorism and radicalism in Singapore has always been a joint effort between the Government and the community.

"In the area of terrorist rehabilitation, we have been ahead of the curve compared to some countries because we have been lucky to have a Muslim community that was prepared to step up to work with the Government to deal with terrorism," said the spokesman.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Jan 27 that Singapore's approach of providing religious counselling to radicalised young people is better for reintegrating them back into society than charging and imprisoning them.

In its statement on Wednesday (Feb 3), the ISD said detainees and RO supervisees attend religious counselling sessions at least once a month, to get proper religious guidance and counter the radical ideology they had imbibed.

They are also given Friday prayer sermons by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), and materials such as video lectures and books by religious scholars and teachers, to address teachings by radical religious ideologues and terrorist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Last week, the ISD said the 16-year-old, who is the first in detention to be influenced by far-right extremist ideology, will undergo Christian religious counselling.

Throughout their detention and after their release on RO, the detainees will work closely with psychologists to address their propensity for hatred and violence, and their vulnerability to radical influence, the ISD said.

"The psychologists will also help them to re-frame the faulty reasoning that underlie their radical beliefs. As part of this process, the psychologists regularly assess behavioural and cognitive aspects of the detainees' progress in rehabilitation," it said.

Social support is also provided to help the detainees re-integrate smoothly into society upon release, and to stay on track in the long run.

The ISD said the detainees are granted weekly family visits to preserve their connection to them as much as possible, with an aftercare officer assigned to their families to provide social and other support.

Physical family visits were suspended for a while last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, during which the detainees' families were encouraged to record video messages for them as a source of encouragement and support, said the ISD.

"Visits have since resumed via videoconferencing, or in some special cases, physical meetings but with safe management measures in place," it said.

Case officers also interact with and support the detainees, and continue supervising and guiding them after they are released under an RO.

The ISD spokesman said the agency has, over the years, constantly refined and updated its rehabilitation approach, in line with international best practices, and in response to the changing profile of the terrorism detainees and supervisees.

Mr Shanmugam noted on Jan 27 that the 16-year-old's arrest was part of a worrying trend of young people under the age of 20 being picked up under the ISA after getting radicalised online.

The current terrorist rehabilitation programme was created following the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) arrests at the start of the millennium, said the ISD.

On Dec 9, 2001, the ISD arrested six Singaporean JI members, with a further 15 detained within a month. The arrests thwarted their plans to attack Yishun MRT station and several foreign embassies in Singapore.

Since 2002, the ISD has partnered the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) to work towards the detainees and RO supervisees' eventual reintegration into society, and ensuring they do not re-engage in terrorism-related activities, the ISD said in its statement.

The RRG, formed in 2003 by a group of Islamic scholars and teachers, provides religious counselling to impart the proper teachings and interpretations of Islam. It also conducts regular outreach against extremist ideas in the community, including among foreign workers.

Set up in 2002, the ACG comprises an informal network of Muslim organisations, providing emotional, social and financial support to the families of detainees and RO supervisees. It also organises numerous counter-ideology forums for young people.

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