Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Nine terror detainees still in custody

By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2014

THIRTEEN years ago, Singapore rounded up 13 men in its first terrorism-related detentions and foiled a Jemaah Islamiah (JI) plot to bomb key spots.

Today, just nine of the 66 men detained over the years for terrorism-related activities remain in custody, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told The Straits Times.

He gave this update in an interview where he touched on Singapore's rehabilitation efforts, which have attracted attention from several countries.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said Singapore will host an East Asia Summit symposium on de-radicalisation for experts to share best practices.

Mr Masagos attributes Singapore's success in rehabilitating most detainees to the efforts of the Muslim community.

A key player in it is the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), made up of Islamic religious teachers who voluntarily counsel detainees and others.

"If theirs was a salaried government job, the detainees may say, it's just a process... something the Government does anyway.

"But because the community came forward, showed their care and concern and engaged them, tried to convince them they had the wrong concepts, we have won them over," he said.

Most of the 66 detained under the Internal Security Act since 2002 were members of JI and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Among them are also self-radicalised individuals who made plans to travel to conflict zones, like Syria and Afghanistan.

With just nine men left in detention, and the others released after being assessed to have been rehabilitated, Mr Masagos said: "This is far, far better than any other outcome in any other country, where they try to address terrorism from a legal point of view, with detention, with incarceration, but no solution to resolving issues from within."

He also said the RRG continues to counsel the remaining nine in detention, some of whom lash out at the counsellors.

Most of the nine are leaders with deep-rooted radical beliefs, he said. Among those still detained are former Singapore JI leader Mas Selamat Kastari, who escaped in 2008 and was recaptured; and his son, Masyhadi, who was arrested in Indonesia and deported last year.

Another is self-radicalised former polytechnic lecturer Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader, the only former detainee to relapse.

There have been no new detainees since last year, Mr Masagos said, but some people have been called up for online comments that lean towards the ideology of militant group ISIS, which poses a new global threat.

Religious harmony needs continuous tending: Masagos
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE must continue tending to its religious harmony if it is to weather the threat of terrorism, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said.

He noted that while members of various religious communities supported the Muslim community's efforts in denouncing terrorism since the first wave of Jemaah Islamiah (JI) arrests in 2001, the building of trust is a continuous process. In an interview with The Straits Times, he recalled how the discovery of a JI plot here shook the nation but also saw some Muslims feeling that they were being viewed with suspicion.

So it helped that as the Muslim community came forward to condemn the acts and denounce the extremists as un-Islamic, leaders of different faiths rallied around them, he said.

"They came together and said, 'We stand behind you, we embrace you as fellow brother citizens. This (JI) is a group of people who are lost and misunderstand their faith,'" Mr Masagos added.

Still, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted at a dialogue with religious and community leaders last month, the threat of terrorism could cause doubts and sow divisions among communities. Singapore, Mr Lee added, had "avoided this danger because our people are rational, they have looked at facts squarely and forthrightly condemned extremists".

Mr Masagos said a range of laws, from the Internal Security Act to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, are in place to ensure racial and religious tensions are not stoked.

But laws alone are not enough, he added. "Harmony needs tending," Mr Masagos said, a point religious leaders interviewed agree with.

Reverend Isaac Raju, a pastor with Pasir Panjang Tamil Methodist Church, said he is confident Singapore would not be divided if a terror attack took place, as a strong foundation of trust had been built among the different communities.

Master Wei Yi, the administrator of the Singapore Taoist Federation, said religious groups hold joint events, like inter-faith youth camps, to strengthen their relationships.

"If an act of terrorism is committed in the name of a religion, we know it is done by people who are misguided and we will not doubt or be suspicious of our friends, colleagues or neighbours who are followers of that religion," he said.

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