SINGAPORE, Nov 24 — Following a resurgence of terrorist activity in France and other parts of the world in recent months, 37 individuals — including 14 Singaporeans — have been investigated by Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) for suspected radical inclinations, inciting violence online, or stoking communal unrest.
One of them, a Bangladeshi construction worker, was arrested under the Internal Security Act on Nov 2 following investigations into his alleged terrorism-related activities.
In a press release today, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it had heightened security alert after a spate of terrorist attacks in France after French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished a series of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad on Sept 1, so as “to pre-empt copy-cat attacks in Singapore”.
And a majority of those being investigated attracted security attention as they had supported the beheading of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty, and the subsequent attacks in France and elsewhere, or incited violence against France or French President Emmanuel Macron for the French government’s defence of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
A few of them had made derogatory remarks against Muslims, it added.
While a handful had commented on the same discussion threads on social media, the majority of the cases are not connected to each other, MHA said.
MHA also said that there is, to date, no indication that any of these individuals had been planning any attacks or protests in Singapore.
Preliminary investigations showed that the arrested man — 26-year-old Bangladeshi construction worker Ahmed Faysal — had prepared himself for armed violence in support of his religion by watching firearms-related videos online, while he is not linked to the incidents in France.
Faysal, who started working here in early 2017, also bought foldable knives and blades in Singapore, which he claimed he would use to carry out attacks against Hindu police officers in Bangladesh.
Apart from Faysal, the other 22 foreigners include 16 individuals — 15 Bangladeshis and one Malaysian — who had been repatriated after the ISD completed its investigations into them.
Most of the 15 Bangladeshis were working in the construction industry, who, in response to the recent terror attacks in France, had made social media postings which incited violence or stoked communal unrest, MHA said.
As for the Malaysian, he was found to be radicalised and had harboured the intention to travel to Syria and Palestine to partake in armed violence, it added.
Investigations are ongoing for the rest of the cases, MHA said, adding that the Singapore Police Force was involved in some of the probes.
The Singaporeans comprise 10 males and four females aged between 19 and 62 years old. Most of them had, in response to the recent terror attacks in France, made social media postings which incited violence or stoked communal unrest as well.
Asked during a media interview today whether the Singaporeans were detained, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam confirmed that Faysal is the only one who was arrested, adding that the authorities “generally try and avoid detention”.
“When we have picked (the cases) up very early, we take an advisory approach, advise them, guide them, and try and put them on a path, which doesn’t get them into trouble,” he said.
Terrorism still alive
Earlier today, Shanmugam delivered a speech at a Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) seminar, in which he said the incident involving the French schoolteacher had drawn strong responses from Muslims around the world, with some describing France’s actions as Islamophobic.
The teacher was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen teenager in a Paris suburb on Oct 16 after he showed his students caricatures of Prophet Muhammad from Charlie Hebdo during a lesson on freedom of expression.
In response to the killing, Macron had issued a statement paying tribute to the teacher, and defending the right to publish the cartoons in France, leading to jihadists calling on its followers to attack French interests and to attack anyone who insult Islam, Shanmugam noted.
Pointing out that there were then follow-up attacks in Nice, Lyon and in Vienna, Australia, he said: “It shows that when jihadists make such calls, there are people who will follow and kill others, (resulting in) more terror.”
MHA also noted in its statement that there had also been attacks in places such as Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as well. These came amid a palpable anti-France climate in several countries, as seen in large protests, calls for boycotts, as well as an uptick in terrorist rhetoric online, it added.
MHA added that the threat of terrorism is still alive, notwithstanding the military defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the dismantling of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
Shanmugam also made mention of this in his speech, saying that RRG’s work remains important during the Covid-19 pandemic as terrorist groups and their supporters are always quick to capitalise on current events and issues to further their violent agendas.
He pointed out that groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda had, for instance, framed the Covid-19 pandemic as divine retribution against the West.
In Faysal’s case, MHA said he shifted his allegiance from ISIS to another militant group fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria, called Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), in the middle of last year, about a year after becoming radicalised by imbibing online propaganda on ISIS.
Faysal donated funds to a Syria-based organisation on the understanding that his donations would benefit HTS’ cause in Syria, and actively shared propaganda promoting armed violence on social media using accounts created under fictitious names, it said.
Apart from ISIS and HTS, Faysal also expressed support for other terrorist groups including the Al-Qaeda and Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, and was also willing to travel to Kashmir, as well as Syria, to fight against the perceived enemies of Islam, it added. — TODAY