Two detained here tried to influence others

The two Singaporeans detained in August for harbouring plans to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group were not just deeply radicalised by the terror group's online propaganda, but sought to influence others as well.

Announcing the detention of Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, 29, and Muhammad Harith Jailani, 18, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday that Shamin was undeterred by his arrest under the Internal Security Act.

He "said he would pursue his plans to join ISIS after his release from detention", the ministry said. He "also said he was prepared to die in the course of defending the 'caliphate' declared by ISIS".

Meanwhile, Harith tried to radicalise those around him to support ISIS' cause and join the group with him.

Community leaders and observers told The Straits Times yesterday that the latest arrests reflect how the threat from ISIS is enduring, and underlined the need for Muslim leaders to do more to counter ISIS.

Said Dr Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group that counsels terror detainees: "If you look at our community, we know about ISIS, we are aware of the threat of ISIS, but one thing we don't fully understand is the seriousness of the threat," he said.

The arrests of Shamin and Harith bring to seven the number of Singaporeans known to have planned to join ISIS or who have joined them.

Two others have been detained.

Mustafa Sultan Ali, 51, was arrested by the Turkish authorities and deported while trying to cross into Syria, and detained here in July.

M. Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i, 19, had made plans to kill the Prime Minister and President if he could not travel. He was detained in April.

An unnamed 17-year-old radicalised youth who made plans to join ISIS was put under a Restriction Order in June to limit his activities.

Two others, Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali and an unnamed woman, are in Syria with some 30,000 foreign fighters, who security agencies fear will pose a threat when they return to their societies.

ISIS, said Dr Mohamed, has used technology to woo men and women across different socio-economic backgrounds and age groups: "Whatever materials you seek, they put at your fingertips."

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies analyst Jasminder Singh agreed, noting that many fighters who crossed into Syria share their stories and tips with others online. There are even easily available files online detailing the different routes that can best avoid the scrutiny of security agencies, he said.

But even as the battle to counter ISIS ideas goes online, Mr Singh noted that many who seek out such information are isolated individuals who can become "hardcore". He said: "Our community is moderate - you will not find radical individuals in our madrasahs or mosques. It is an isolated group that is not mixing well with the rest of society."

Association of Muslim Professionals chairman Azmoon Ahmad, who heads the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group that looks after detainees' families, said some groups are looking at better tackling the root causes of such disaffection. Some might find ISIS attractive because of family problems, or see in its ideology a purpose in life previously missing, and groups are finding ways to better engage and empower them to make the right choices, he added.

"ISIS is becoming more bold in the way it reaches out to our youth, so it's important we identify youth with difficult families and give them more attention," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Two detained here tried to influence others'. Print Edition | Subscribe