Monday 16 March 2015

Youth 'must be wary of ISIS rhetoric'

Be on guard against terror group's social media reach: Maliki Osman
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 15 Mar 2015

Youth in Singapore have a part to play in countering the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), given the unprecedented social media savvy shown by the terrorist outfit, said Minister of State for Defence and National Development Maliki Osman yesterday.

Besides guarding themselves against the terrorists' rhetoric, youth here should also be watchful for peers who may appear to have fallen under the influence of extremist ideology, Dr Maliki told 350 students yesterday, at a convention organised by Muslim group Taman Bacaan and the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group, which helps to reintegrate terror detainees.

He urged them to be on guard against the terrorist group's social media reach.

"The videos and images that we view from our palms, through our tablets and smartphones, may shape perception and thinking and influence us," he said.

"But, please remember, our multiracial, multi-religious nature of our society will not change. Neither will the need for tolerance, respect and sensitivity in preserving our racial harmony."

Individuals may become self-radicalised by material they view online, and like-minded "lone wolves" could also come together to commit acts of terror, said Dr Maliki.

He called on the participants to look out for one another, watch for tell-tale signs like increased isolation and more dogmatic religious views in their peers, and alert the authorities or adults early.

Participants also had a closed-door dialogue with several terrorism experts.

The questions students raised included how prepared Singapore was to manage the social fallout of a terror attack.

How a country reacts to a terrorist attack determines whether it will survive one, said keynote speaker Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"A terrorist attack, by itself, cannot really destroy Singapore," he said. "It is only a communal riot, (that may) happen after the attack, and the suspicion and the hatred that we develop - that is what can damage Singapore."

Only individual Singaporeans, and not the Government, can ensure that society remains peaceful and resilient even if an attack occurs, said Professor Rohan.

Students said the session reminded them to be wary of ISIS propaganda and question the purpose of materials released by the terrorist group.

Ms Monessha Nair, a 20-year-old Republic Polytechnic student, talked about watching a recent shocking video of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive by ISIS. She said: "The video really captured my attention and I watched the whole thing from the start to the end... I'm definitely more on guard against their propaganda."

Dr Maliki said he was glad that the participants included young people from various ethnic groups.

"It's not about Islam; it's a political ideology that is being framed in the context of a religion," he said. "And for non-Muslim students to be able to hear and appreciate the actual content is very important."

ISIS video draws concern from S'pore Muslim leaders
More concerted effort needed to counter radical rhetoric, they say
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 18 Mar 2015

THE latest video by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) of children training with weapons, the first of its kind to be produced in Malay, yesterday drew concern from Muslim community leaders and observers in Singapore.

While they were not surprised by the latest push by the terrorist outfit to garner more support from this region, the community leaders said it highlighted the need for a more concerted effort to counter ISIS' radical rhetoric.

"They are going on the offensive and trying to make inroads into South-east Asia," said Mr Azmoon Ahmad, chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals.

To counter this, more groups can work together to educate young people about the dangers of ISIS' ideology, added Mr Azmoon, who also chairs the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) that looks after the welfare of terror detainees' families and helps reintegrate the men into society upon their release. The ACG helped organise a seminar last Saturday to educate students about the dangers of extremist ideology.

The latest video shows a group of at least 20 boys studying, praying, eating and undergoing defence and weapons lessons in territory held by ISIS.

Muslim leaders say they find it worrying because even as the vast majority reject ISIS teachings, the way the group uses children to portray a radical view of what it means to be a model believer might influence some viewers.

"They may convince their supporters to carry out attacks at home, or in countries like Singapore," said veteran mosque leader M. Abdul Rahim, 49. "As citizens, we must quickly sound out any suspicious behaviour and bring it up to the authorities."

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore said the video is part of ISIS' strategy to extend its global reach in a region with "ample opportunities due to the presence of many radical groups".

He fears returning fighters will pose a threat greater than that posed by those who returned from fighting in Afghanistan in the 1990s. Several members of the Jemaah Islamiah network in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore trained there, and plotted attacks including the 2002 Bali bombings.

SIM University student Firdaus Iskandar, 24, worries that such videos might also spur lone wolves to commit damaging acts.

He suggests schools do more to expose young people to the topic of extremism and its dangers.

"So when they go home and view such videos online, they have a knowledge base that they can rely on to understand the intent of these videos. They come in with some background and are not so easily seduced," he said.

Mr Azmoon said the latest video should also drive home the point of how far removed ISIS is from Islamic teachings.

"It's very sad because I don't know of any war, even in Prophet Muhammad's time, that uses children, what more shooting their captives. I don't know what kind of doctrine they are using."

Families lured by promise of homes, jobs and money
By Zubaidah Nazeer, Indonesia Bureau Chief, In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 18 Mar 2015

THEY are promised a house, a job and 20 million rupiah (S$2,200) or more each if they join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. In short, a life with one's family awaits in a new land where all live under Islamic rule.

And now, a video of Malay-speaking children studying, praying and getting weapons training adds to the propaganda that families can join ISIS, say analysts.

"Images of children using guns mixed with clips of them praying are attempts to show how creating a 'God's Army' has to start from young. (It's) a distorted idea," said terrorism analyst Taufik Andrie.

It also suggests that families can be good Muslims and defend their faith in the new Islamic state rather than in Indonesia, which is secular, added Mr Taufik, executive director at the Institute for International Peace Building.

Such propaganda has led groups of Indonesians or families to make the long trek to join ISIS, according to Indonesian police.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, practises a tolerant brand of Islam. It has cracked down on major terrorist networks like the Al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiah, but radical fringe groups remain, some of them pro-ISIS.

Commenting on the video yesterday, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno said: "This is something we should prevent. If the children are trained by ISIS, they will pose a threat if they return to Indonesia."

On Monday, police spokesman Rikwanto, who goes by one name, told reporters that a group of 16 Indonesians - mostly women and children from three families - were detained in Turkey in late January. They were drawn by the lure of waging a holy war and the promise of receiving 20 million rupiah or more, he added.

One of the women is the widow of terrorist Hidayat who was killed in 2013. Hidayat was linked to a group based in Poso, Central Sulawesi, and led by Indonesia's most wanted terrorist Santoso.

Referring to this group, Mr Tedjo said that Indonesian children taken to Syria could become more dangerous than their parents after living there.

Another group of 16 Indonesians went missing while on a tour in Turkey late last month, and are believed to be in Syria. A team of Indonesian officials are in Turkey trying to locate them.

There have also been cases of Indonesians who were caught before they could get to Syria.

"ISIS is looking for skilled people to help set up the new state. It needs people and invites women and children to accompany their men to complete a family. It is building housing, schools and providing jobs, just like any community," said Mr Taufik.

Said counter-terrorism chief Saud Usman Nasution: "It is difficult to determine how many are in ISIS-controlled areas in Syria because they may not have left directly from Indonesia.

"The threat (of ISIS) is real, even if we are not near the Middle East," he told The Straits Times.

The Foreign Ministry has urged Indonesians with family members or relatives studying in the Middle East to keep close tabs on them.

There have also been calls for the government to do more at the grassroots levels so people know what they could be getting into.

Said Mr Taufik: "People in the villages do not understand the real situation. They are fooled by propaganda that life under ISIS means fulfilling their obligation to live an Islamic life."

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