Thursday, 28 March 2013

Singapore still a target for terrorism, says PM Lee at the International Conference on Terrorist Rehabilitation and Community Resilience

Country cannot let its guard down as terror groups remain a global threat
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned yesterday that Singapore could not afford to be complacent on terrorism as the country remained a potential terror target.

Terrorism, he added, continued to pose a "real and potent challenge" globally, although many countries had made progress in fighting it.

"From time to time, we hear reports of terrorists in our region wanting to attack Singapore or Singaporean assets in our neighbourhood," he said. "We must never let our guard down."

Mr Lee was speaking at an international conference on terrorist rehabilitation and community resilience at the Raffles City Convention Centre, attended by prominent counter-terrorism experts from around the world and community leaders from Singapore.

The conference was held in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, which counsels radicalised individuals here to abandon their extremist beliefs.

Referring to the ongoing global fight against terrorism, Mr Lee acknowledged that there were encouraging signs.

Osama bin Laden, along with several other Al-Qaeda leaders, had been killed and the group's ability to mount major operations "has been diminished".

Jemaah Islamiah, the most important terrorist group in South- east Asia, has also suffered serious setbacks, with leaders and operatives killed or arrested, he said.

Still, these terrorist groups continue to stay active.

Mr Lee cited Al-Qaeda's call to its followers to join the fight to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an example of terrorist groups exploiting local political developments to win new converts.

Even as Al-Qaeda continues to prove resilient, other threats are emerging.

Mr Lee highlighted the rise of terrorist splinter groups such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria. These groups are smaller, more amorphous and therefore harder to eliminate.

He also called for caution on self-radicalised individuals, a problem in Singapore.

"We've seen several Singaporeans who have been radicalised by terrorist ideology through the Internet, and have acted on their perverse beliefs," he said.

Earlier this month, the Government announced that one such individual, Abdul Basheer, had been detained again under the Internal Security Act, after he made inquiries on leaving Singapore to pursue militant jihad abroad.

Turning his attention to how Singapore should address the serious challenge posed by terrorism going forward, Mr Lee laid out a three-pronged approach: deepening trust in the community especially between ethnic groups, enhancing operational capabilities and strengthening international cooperation.

Keeping Singapore safe, he said, is a constant cat-and-mouse game: "Terrorist organisations become more and more sophisticated, and for each move, there is a counter move, for which the security agencies must develop a counter-counter move, and so it goes on."

Other speakers at the conference also discussed likely developments in counter-terrorism.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore said that more countries will start to rely not just on coercive methods but on the rehabilitation of radicals as well.

He foresees a possible doubling of rehabilitation programmes worldwide in the next five years.

Brigadier General (Retired) Russell Howard of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States said cyber attacks may be the next potential tactic of terrorist groups.

Religious Rehabilitation Group lauded
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2013

THE Islamic scholars and teachers who set up the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) have been hailed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for their courage in stepping forward to do the right thing.

The group, which is marking its 10th anniversary this year, was formed to counsel radical jihadists against an extremist reading of Islam. It was set up after the 2001 arrest of Jemaah Islamiah members in Singapore.

The decision by these scholars to work with the Government was not an easy one, Mr Lee said yesterday. "It was a brave move. At the time, this was an experimental approach to religious rehabilitation. No one could foresee how it would pan out.

"(They) took a leap of faith, and took the risk of being seen as lackeys of the Government."

Since its inception, the group has written two counselling manuals to critique religious interpretations and concepts commonly used to advocate jihadist violence.

They have also published articles and set up a website (

Mr Lee said the group, which has more than 30 volunteer members, "has fulfilled our hopes, though its mission continues".

He thanked Ustaz Ali Mohamed and Ustaz Md Hasbi Hassan, co-chairmen of the RRG, for their leadership, pioneer members Ustaz Ibrahim Kassim and Ustaz Mohamed Rais, as well as former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng for fully backing the group.

Mr Wong was home affairs minister when the RRG was founded.

Yesterday, Ustaz Ali described the challenges the RRG faced. These include developing from scratch a model for religious rehabilitation, a new approach to counter-terrorism then, finding religious teachers, dealing with "difficult detainees" and staying up to date on extremist ideologies.

The challenge of rehabilitating radicalised individuals was highlighted earlier this month, when the Government disclosed that Abdul Basheer - who had been radicalised over the Internet, detained and subsequently released - had been detained again for returning to his old ways.

Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna told The Straits Times Abdul Basheer was the first case of recidivism among detainees here. It was a reminder to keep working to fight the problem, he said.

Said Ustaz Mohamed Ali of the RRG: "We, as counsellors, cannot be 100 per cent sure that the (individual's) ideology has been eradicated, because ideology is something unseen."

Ustaz Md Feisal Md Hassan of the RRG added: "We do everything to assist individuals and to guide them out of the darkness of the pit they are in, but finally, they have to decide for themselves to step out of the pit."

Singapore's de-radicalisation programme has attracted global interest: RSIS dean
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Mar 2013

Dean of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) Barry Desker said Singapore's de-radicalisation programme aimed at countering terrorism and terrorist ideologies has attracted global interest.

Speaking at the opening of the international conference on terrorist rehabilitation and community resilience, he said over the past four years, such outreach programmes have expanded beyond Singapore shores.

Mr Desker said the foundation of Iraq's religious rehabilitation programme was partly based on knowledge gained from Singapore's programme. Field visits and programmes have also been conducted in several countries like Indonesia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

These have enabled both counter terrorism scholars and religious scholars to better understand rehabilitation efforts and identify best practices to assist in these efforts.

Also speaking at the conference was the co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group in Singapore (RRG), Ustaz Ali Mohamed. He stressed that the Malay Muslim community here is fortunate that the government is willing to empower the community to become partners in handling the problem of terrorism.

The government also does not take terrorism as a security threat to be resolved by the use of law and security action alone. This has allowed the RRG to take ownership of the problem and tackle it from the religious perspective and thus contribute to national security.

Ustaz Ali cautioned that cyberspace is shaping up to be the new battleground for the hearts and minds, and terrorists are increasingly exploiting the internet as a tool for mass communications and radicalisation.

Thus, the RRG's next big challenge is to sustain and continuously develop counter narratives to terrorist ideologies.

The two-day conference is attended by 500 participants and speakers from 28 countries.

‘Anger, resentment, fear’ hinder efforts to rehabilitate extremists
By Amir Hussain, TODAY, 26 Mar 2013

It has been more than a decade since the Sept 11 attacks catapulted counterterrorism to the top of many government agendas.

But despite the obvious benefits of rehabilitation programmes as a response to terrorism, many countries have yet to embrace the approach, partly because of anger and resentment, and also due to politicians’ fear that they could be deemed as singling out the Muslim community, said Dr Douglas Stone, who was formerly Commander of the United States detainee operations in Iraq.

Dr Stone, a retired Major-General from the US Marine Corps, is in town for a two-day International Conference on Terrorist Rehabilitation and Community Resilience, which starts today. As one of the speakers at the conference, he is slated to talk about the current rehabilitation initiatives around the world and discuss future trends.

Speaking to TODAY in an interview, Dr Stone — who has been a strong advocate of rehabilitation programmes — also urged Singapore to “get out and talk to every nation on the globe” and share its success in rehabilitation efforts.

Calling for a “global initiative” to sponsor rehabilitation programmes around the world, Dr Stone said the United Nations should, in fact, give the Singapore Government the opportunity to present its work in this area to the General Assembly.

More than 25 countries have signed the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders, Dr Stone said. “Yet, only 10 or so nations, globally, really have programmes, some of which have actually died off — the programme in Egypt is now gone, I think the programme in Yemen is now gone,” he said.

“Even my own nation, the United States, does not have a formal rehabilitation programme for any of its federal or state prisons. And it certainly does not have any programme in Guantanamo Bay, even now, 13 years or so after we’ve started to take prisoners.”

Dr Stone felt that the focus on the use of force to counter the terrorist threat was in part due to “anger and resentment” caused by the Sept 11 attacks. There is also the fear of being perceived to be anti-Muslim which holds politicians back from implementing rehabilitation programmes in some countries, he added.

“Anger and resentment to what happened (on Sept 11, 2001) caused a very direct military and kinetic response ... it’s quite clear that the United States, in particular, had been hit and they intended to hit somebody back,” he said.

Dr Stone added: “Probably a natural kind of response but obviously, as one of the leaders in that war in Iraq and also ... having served in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it’s not clear that that kind of response alone when you’re angry is going to necessarily get the desired outcome.

“You can be angry and be thoughtful at the same time ... sometimes, with the political agendas that we have, there’s a response which is maybe not as thoughtful as it could have been.”

While rehabilitation was a “more thoughtful and more appropriate response” to countering religious extremism, Dr Stone acknowledged that it is more difficult to implement because “it requires you to be very sensitive to what is in the mind of your perceived enemy”, alongside engagement with religious leaders and the community.

On Singapore’s rehabilitation programme, which he studied prior to taking up his appointment in Iraq, Dr Stone lauded it for being implemented in “an academic environment that is willing to study and constantly change”.

“I would certainly like to see the rest of the globe … to initiate what it is Singapore is doing,” he said, noting how the Singapore authorities pool together experts to study the concept of rehabilitation and “commit to a programme that is complementary with the use of force”.

Earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also the Home Affairs Minister, said in Parliament that Singapore is concerned by terrorist elements’ growing use of social media to spread propaganda and recruit new radicals.

Mr Teo had added that it is not easy to de-radicalise someone who has imbibed terrorist ideology and former lawyer and polytechnic law lecturer Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader — who was re-detained after he was thought to have been successfully rehabilitated — is a “timely reminder that Singapore must continue to invest efforts in the rehabilitation of our terrorist detainees”.

On self-radicalisation, Dr Stone noted that “if you believe in the rule of law and if you believe in democracy, then you must also believe that the individual citizen has a right to a pretty broad range of beliefs”. The tipping point, he said, is when “they’re really going to do something to harm innocents or other civilians”.

He reiterated that governments have to “be as aggressive in communicating to the community and the population-at-risk” as extremists do.

“(Governments should) aggressively go and try to change the narrative and push back with a different narrative,” said Dr Stone, noting that the Internet can be a double-edged sword which authorities should harness to counter extremist ideologies.

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