ISD adjusts its approach to rehabilitation as those dealt with for terror-linked conduct get younger

A 16-year-old student was detained in December 2020, after plotting an attack on Muslims at two mosques.
A 16-year-old student was detained in December 2020, after plotting an attack on Muslims at two mosques.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Internal Security Department (ISD) is adjusting its approach to rehabilitation as those it has detained or dealt with for terror-linked activity get younger.

While addressing the extremist ideology that influences these young people remains a priority, additional attention is being paid to non-ideological factors that led to their radicalisation, the agency said in a statement on Wednesday (Feb 3).

These include their sense of belonging and identity, critical thinking skills to discern radical rhetoric online, and mental resilience to cope with sources of stress, it said in an update on Singapore's efforts to rehabilitate terror detainees.

The ISD noted that since 2015, seven of the 53 people it had picked up for terror-related conduct were aged between 16 and 19.

Last week, it announced the detention of a 16-year-old student radicalised by far-right ideology who made plans to kill worshippers at two mosques - Singapore's youngest detainee under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

By comparison, the youngest people dealt with in the years following the foiled Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror plots in 2001 were 20 and 21.

Between 2007 and 2014, the youngest radicalised person dealt with under the ISA was 20.

Since then, Singapore also saw the first woman dealt with under the ISA for terror-related conduct, in 2016. Six Singaporean women have been dealt with under the law to date, the ISD noted.

"As a result, the rehabilitation approach has also been adjusted to meet the needs of a more diverse group of detainees and supervisees in recent years," it added.

Of the seven young people dealt with under the ISA, one has been released on a Restriction Order (RO), another remains on RO, while the ROs for two have lapsed.

A person on an RO may not change his address or job, or travel out of Singapore without approval, among other restrictions, and has to undergo rehabilitation to steer him away from radical ideology.

In managing these youth cases, the ISD said it pays particular effort on the detainees continuing with their education, where practicable. "This was assessed to be critical in keeping these youths motivated and focused. We have worked with their families, schools and other rehabilitation stakeholders to create a conducive environment to facilitate their studies."

A mentoring programme tailored for young detainees was also introduced in 2016.

The ISD said the mentor-mentee relationship would continue after their release to ensure that they stay focused on pro-social goals, adding: "The mentor functions as a positive influence and provides additional social support to mitigate their risk of re-engagement in terrorism-related activities."

The ISD noted that most of the young people dealt with have made good progress in their rehabilitation.

One did well enough for his GCE O-level exams in detention to qualify for admission to a polytechnic.

A youth on RO won an award for being the top performer in his Institute of Technical Education course, and his order was allowed to lapse. He is currently doing well in his polytechnic studies.

A third youth who was in the ITE when placed on RO is now in a polytechnic and plans to pursue a degree after getting his diploma.

The ISD noted that since 2002, 129 Singaporeans have been dealt with for terror-related conduct, of whom 41 were given ROs from the onset. The remaining 88 were detained, and 68 have been released.

All cases that have been released from detention or are under RO are subject to a supervision regime.

The ISD said this ensures it can take early action should former detainees show any sign of reverting to radical ideology or re-engaging in terrorism-related activities.

It added that rehabilitation efforts, including those involving radicalised young people, can work only if the individual is open to change.

A handful of detainees remain resistant to rehabilitation, the ISD said.

For example, one youth continues to firmly believe in ISIS ideology and has had a total of four religious counsellors, in an effort to find one who can get through to him. "Despite our best efforts, he remains defiant and unreceptive."

A few other detainees continue to hold firmly to violent radical beliefs, despite the best efforts to engage them, the ISD said.

"We will continue to explore ways to reach out to these detainees," it added.