16-year-old Singaporean who made ‘detailed plans’ to attack two mosques in Woodlands detained under ISA

The secondary school student had hatched a plan to attack the Assyafaah Mosque (left) along Admiralty Lane and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, the Internal Security Department said. — TODAY pic
The secondary school student had hatched a plan to attack the Assyafaah Mosque (left) along Admiralty Lane and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, the Internal Security Department said. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Jan 27 — A 16-year-old Singaporean boy was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in December last year after he was found to have made “detailed plans” and preparations to conduct terrorist attacks against Muslims at two mosques here with a machete.

The secondary school student, the youngest person to be detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities, had hatched a plan to attack the Assyafaah Mosque along Admiralty Lane and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said today.

The boy is a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity and is believed to have acted alone. He was not named by the ISD because of his age.

The self-radicalised youth intended to strike the mosques on March 15, exactly two years after far-right extremist Brenton Harrison Tarrant live-streamed the massacre of more than 50 Muslims at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.

The boy was influenced by the Christchurch gunman, who had released a manifesto before the mass shooting, ISD said.

The boy’s plan involved livestreaming his acts, just like Tarrant did.

ISD said he was the first person to be detained after being inspired by far-right extremist ideology.

While the racist far-right extremist movement has been a major concern in Western countries, terror plots in Singapore and the region continue to be dominated by Islamist threats.

During the investigations, the boy admitted that he could foresee only two outcomes to his plan — that he is arrested before he  carries out the attacks, or he executes the plan and is thereafter killed by police, ISD said.

His plan

The boy started drawing up his plan after a terror attack on Oct 29 last year in Nice, France, in which a knife-wielding attacker beheaded a woman and killed two other people at a church.

That attack convinced him of the need to defend Christians by pre-emptively attacking Muslims here, ISD said.He had chosen the mosques as his targets because they were near his home. He did online reconnaissance and research on both locations.

Although he was underage and did not know how to drive, he had planned to steal his father’s credit card to rent a BlueSG electric car to travel between the two mosques. Investigations showed he had watched videos on how to drive and rent a BlueSG car.

In November last year, he bought a tactical vest from an online platform and intended to adorn the vest with right-wing extremist symbols and modify it, so that he could strap on his mobile device to livestream the attack.

The youth’s original plan was to use a rifle. He managed to find a prospective seller on a private chat platform, but he did not follow through with the purchase when he was asked to pay in Bitcoin and suspected it was a scam.

He then researched legal means of gaining access to firearms in Singapore and even considered joining the Singapore Rifle Association, but abandoned the idea given the difficulty of getting a firearm here.

He also explored devising a bomb made of triacetone triperoxide, a volatile explosive prone to unintended detonation, and mimicking Tarrant’s plan of setting fire to the mosques with gasoline.

Owing to concerns surrounding logistics and his personal safety, he dropped both ideas and settled on a machete he found for sale on online marketplace Carousell.He added the S$190 (RM580) machete to his favourite listings and wanted to save up enough money to buy it.To prepare himself for the attack, he watched YouTube videos on how to attack with the knife and was confident of hitting the arteries of his targets by randomly slashing the neck and chest areas, ISD said.

Self-radicalised

ISD said that the boy was self-radicalised and was motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence.

He watched the livestreamed video of the Christchurch attack and read the attacker’s manifesto.

“He had also watched Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) propaganda videos, and came to the erroneous conclusion that Isis represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers,” ISD added.

The right-wing extremist symbols he intended to affix to his vest, particularly the Black Sun and the Celtic Cross, were the same ones worn by Tarrant during the Christchurch shooting.In November last year, the youth drafted two documents that he planned to disseminate before the attack.

The first was a message to the people of France, calling on the them to “stand up for what is right” and declaring that “we cannot let (Muslims) lurk in our bushes and wait for them to attack”.

He referred to his intended attacks as a “massacre”, an “act of vengeance” and a “call for war” against Islam.

The second document was a manifesto detailing his hatred for Islam, which was still unfinished when he was arrested.

In it, he wrote about his belief that “violence can never be solved with peace”. Peace, while “moral”, is “nowhere near effective” as violence, he continued.

He also expressed hope that his “act of extremism or (what) some would call ‘a justifiable act of violence’... would cause a change in those who believe that Islamic extremism is right”.The draft, which borrowed heavily from Tarrant’s own manifesto, referred to Tarrant as a “saint” and the Christchurch attacks as a “justifiable killing of Muslims”.

Rehabilitation process

Because of his young age, ISD said that the boy’s mother was present during interviews by the authorities before his arrest.

An “appropriate adult” was also engaged to be present during the investigation.

He was also granted family visits, even though such visits are not typically allowed in the first 30 days of such probes.The boy will undergo a rehabilitation process that will involve religious, psychological and social counselling.

The process may require Christian religious counselling to correct his misconceptions as well as psychological counselling to address his propensity for violence and vulnerability to radical influences, ISD said.

Mentoring will also be provided to guide him on pro-social behaviour and arrangements made for him to continue education while in detention.

ISD said: “This case demonstrates yet again that extreme ideas can find resonance among and radicalise Singaporeans, regardless of race or religion.”

Worrying development

Speaking to reporters at a press briefing today, Shanmugam said that the authorities do not intend to charge the boy in court because of his young age. H

e was also only in the process of planning his attack and had yet to take any action.

But Mr Shanmugam said that it was a worrying development: “It’s the first case we have had of right-wing extremists targeting Muslims.”

“Violent impulses, I’ve said this many times, is not restricted to any particular racial group or religious group. It can occur among anyone. It’s really a question of being exposed to hate speech and then being influenced by it.”

He added: “And it’s also worrying that we are picking up young people.”

Since 2015, the authorities have used the ISA against seven young people under 20.

Four were detained and three have been served with restriction orders, which means they must abide by several conditions, such as seeking the approval of authorities if they wish to change their residence or leave Singapore.

Shanmugam said he has asked ISD and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to engage the religious organisations to be more vigilant against radicalised individuals to strengthen their crisis preparedness. — TODAY

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