Saturday 18 April 2015

Returning ISIS fighters will pose a long term threat to global security: DPM Teo

Returnees could carry out attacks and radicalise others: DPM Teo
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2015

THE large number of foreign fighters taking part in the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Syria will pose an international security threat for decades to come, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

And, like most countries, Singapore is concerned that these fighters - who number over 20,000 - could carry out attacks when they return home and radicalise others to join their ranks, he said at the opening of an international meeting on the terror threat. "The security threat posed by returnees has already manifested in several incidents," Mr Teo said, citing the instance of French national Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed four people in Brussels last May after returning from Syria.

Nemmouche had travelled through Singapore on his way home from Syria, he added.

With more than 500 radicals from the Asia-Pacific now fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the issue of how to tackle the security threat they pose and rehabilitate those who have returned was a key theme at the forum yesterday.

The two-day East Asia Summit (EAS) Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration involves 560 participants from more than 30 countries, including top officials and scholars from Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced Singapore's intention to host the summit when EAS leaders met in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, last November as part of its effort to help find ways to counter ISIS' influence.

Yesterday, Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, said the fallout from the Syrian conflict "goes beyond what any one country or government can deal with".

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution. But there is definitely scope for us to learn from one another on what has worked under different circumstances."

Mr Teo noted that the threat of returning fighters is not new, as Singaporean members of the Jemaah Islamiah network, nabbed in 2001 and 2002, had trained in Afghanistan.

But unlike the Soviet-Afghan war that spawned Al-Qaeda and drew largely individual fighters, ISIS has attracted entire families who have relocated to be part of the self-proclaimed caliphate.

"Given their exposure to radical ideology and violence from a tender age, it is worrying what these children will grow up to be," Mr Teo said.

He also noted that one common trait among radicalised individuals in Singapore was that they had weak religious grounding, making them susceptible to radicals who distort religion to legitimise violence.

In Singapore, religious scholars have stepped forward to help counsel detainees and rehabilitate them, and this Religious Rehabilitation Group continues to educate the wider community about the dangers of radical ideology, Mr Teo said.

Countries also need to look into reintegrating rehabilitated terrorists into society, he added.

In Singapore, an Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) ropes in community groups to support families of detainees and ensure those released are reintegrated into society. Said ACG member Abdul Halim Kader: "We want to prevent the second generation from being radicalised."

Speakers at the symposium today include Mufti Fatris Bakaram and General John Allen, the US' special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS.

Calls to curb ISIS' social media reach
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2015

VIDEOS on YouTube of a 10- year-old boy executing a captive, and Facebook and Twitter posts praising the brutal methods of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group in recent months have attracted millions of viewers and made headlines.

It was thus no surprise that with terrorists latching on to social media to woo recruits, several participants at a regional meeting on countering terrorism called for more to be done to curb ISIS' freedom online and restrict its reach.

But Mr Richard Stengel, United States Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, told the first panel at the East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration - the only one open to the media - that it was not just the job of governments to shut these views out.

Extreme views are more effectively fought when individuals actively challenge them, he said, calling on communities and people to speak out against offensive content and pressure social media companies to take them down.

"Social media companies don't want to hear from the US government. They want to hear from individuals," he said. They also do not want "their environment polluted by this hateful, death-embracing vision".

"That's against everything that they stand for," he said.

Symposium convener Rohan Gunaratna said much of extremist activity online takes place on platforms hosted in the US, and asked why the country had yet to clamp down on this. "You must address this challenge, because it is these platforms that are currently polluting the minds of our youth," he said. "Unless we address this challenge, every day there will be new sympathisers and supporters of terrorist groups."

Observers have also cited one issue exploited by radicals - how free speech in Western societies has given rise to anti-Islamic sentiment in recent years.

But Mr Stengel, a former journalist and editor, made the point that the Internet is not a space for the government to wade into, and sought to put ISIS' influence on social media in perspective.

"The number of cat videos versus the number of Daesh videos is an exponentially larger number. People on the Internet are much more interested in cats than they are interested in Daesh," he said to laughter, referring to ISIS by the acronym of its Arabic name, which militants hate. Some officials have used the term to refer to ISIS, to stress that there is nothing Islamic or state-like about it.

"It's up to all of us to enlist the credible voices of real people out there, who are rejecting what Daesh is doing online," he added.

Participant Daisy Khan of non-profit group Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality was also concerned about the coverage ISIS' brutality has received in the mass media.

"This is not just about freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We are at a time of war," she said. "What can we do to ask the media to at least black out the images and say, we will not be used as a platform to further the propaganda of terrorists?"

Mr Stengel said the media had displayed restraint by refusing to publish certain videos or images.

The most effective message to counter ISIS, he felt, was not just saying their message was not in line with Islam, but also challenging their propaganda and showing that life in areas they control is far from the utopia they paint it as.

"The caliphate is a place where there's no electricity, where there's no food, where there's suffering," he added.

Efforts to rehabilitate detainees, help families
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2015

WHEN Singapore first detained some 30 members of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah for plotting terror attacks in 2001 and 2002, a group of Islamic religious scholars stepped forward to help set right their misunderstanding of Islamic teachings.

At the same time, several Malay/Muslim community organisations got together to see how they could assist family members who had to cope with the detention of their main breadwinner.

Yesterday, key members of both groups - the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and Inter- Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) - shared their experience of rehabilitating Singapore's terror detainees at a regional summit on how to better counter terrorism.

Their efforts have seen all but nine of the 66 terror detainees arrested since 2001 being released, after they were deemed to have been sufficiently rehabilitated.

But more work lies ahead, as the influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group continues to grow, and more youth who turn to the Internet get led astray by radicals online.

The plethora of militant voices online means that the RRG has to keep exploring new, pro-active approaches to counter extreme ideas, said RRG vice-chairman Mohamed Ali. Efforts to educate the general public should also be stepped up "as we don't know who is actually infected", he said.

ACG founding member Abdul Halim Kader also said community groups continue to help the families of detainees even after their release. This goes beyond financial aid and ranges from simple gestures like giving them cookies during Hari Raya to helping them upgrade their skills and find better jobs in the long term, he said.

The top Muslim religious leader, Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, told reporters that religious teachers and the youth can be further empowered to challenge radical views when they encounter them. Dr Fatris also said the energy of youth keen to right "injustice" in conflict areas can be better channelled to positive initiatives such as community projects.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters that supporting the families of detainees can help prevent family members from falling prey to radical ideology, even as religious leaders guide detainees and their families on the right approach to the faith.

In countering jihadi terrorism, we need religious responses and social strategies, beyond security actions and...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, April 17, 2015

Community, religion 'key to help fight extremism'
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2015

AFTER two days of discussions on countering extremism with counterparts from around the region, senior Australian law enforcement official Mark Whitechurch feels community and grassroots groups need to be enlisted to challenge radical views online.

And Dr Afifi al-Akiti, an Oxford University Islamic studies academic from Malaysia, says Muslim parents need to "have the ISIS talk" - referring to the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - with their children and be aware of their surfing habits, and treat extremism the same way they do sexual predators online.

They were among 600 experts, officials and religious leaders from over 30 countries who shared their expertise and picked up ideas at the two-day East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration, which ended yesterday.

Speaking at a closing dinner for key guests at the Khadijah Mosque, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he hoped that delegates would "adapt and apply" what they have learnt.

He noted that countries face different circumstances in grappling with the ISIS threat, but a common feature was that security action alone was not enough to tackle the problem.

"We must go beyond that, to the religious dimension: to rehabilitate apprehended terrorists so they understand the error of their ways... and do not fall prey again to a warped version of Islam.

"We also need the social dimension: to reintegrate the former extremists back into society, so they have family, friends and support."

Both aspects need to be addressed more broadly, to avoid marginalisation, enclaves, misperceptions and resentments which can feed extremism, he said.

Fortunately, Singaporeans have lived in peace and harmony due to a conscious, sustained effort to build trust, that includes integrated public housing estates.

Crucially, the Muslim community and its leaders have been supportive of these efforts, he said.

Mr Lee noted that after Jemaah Islamiah members were detained in 2002, a group of religious leaders came forward "with no certainty of success, put their reputations on the line, worked closely with government, and took the risk of being seen as just doing the Government's bidding".

But they persevered, formed the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) to counsel detainees, and Singapore has released from detention 57 extremists. It has so far had only one case of recidivism.

The RRG also reached out to the wider community, and set up at Khadijah Mosque a resource and counselling centre, which Mr Lee visited yesterday afternoon.

Other Muslim groups have also played a key role, like the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association, and the Aftercare Group.

But community and religious leaders say there can be no let up.

Dr Afifi said some popular scholars have many followers: "They need to come to the forefront and play a better role.. You have to come up with what I consider sexed up messages, more attractive messages for the young."

New platform to share anti-terror practices
Global network run by S'pore centre to counter radical propaganda online
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2015

SCHOLARS, religious leaders and officials will be able to better learn how their counterparts elsewhere challenge radical views, from creative videos that counter hardline ideas to information on former militants turned good.

They will be part of a new platform launched yesterday to pool and share experiences on rehabilitating and reintegrating militants.

Called the Strategies on Aftercare and Reintegration Network, it will first engage close to 600 participants from 30 countries who attended the two-day East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration.

The network will focus on countering radical propaganda online and on social media, in particular material put out by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The platform also seeks to share ideas on how best to immunise communities against extremism, and to rehabilitate and reintegrate those who have been radicalised.

The network will be managed by Singapore's International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), which is part of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

The school's executive deputy chairman Ong Keng Yong told participants that communication among those working to counter extremism, as well as engaging the wider community in such efforts, is important. But collaboration among like-minded partners is also key, and this is what the network seeks to bring about.

"We have to look for partners and the challenges that we have here cannot be done and solved by only one person and one country," he said.

The threat posed by returning fighters and the challenge of countering ISIS' online propaganda were among the key concerns of delegates at the event.

Singapore's top Muslim leader, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, told them that with the plurality of voices on the Internet, religious leaders must strive to stay relevant.

"We'll need to take a few steps backwards and restart with the idea that our credibility as a religious authority is not a right. It needs to be earned," he said.

General John Allen, the United States' special presidential envoy for the global anti-ISIS coalition, which comprises over 60 countries working to defeat the group through military force and other means, also spoke yesterday.

"We can bring to bear the capacity of the global coalition... to counter the message and the narrative of Daesh but, also very importantly, to tell the story of Islam, to help Muslims around the world recover Islam from the grip of organisations like Daesh," he said, referring to ISIS by the acronym of its Arabic name.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the ICPVTR, said the network will build on discussions from the event and "expand beyond this to strengthen the hands of the community, state and other organisations to counter the current and emerging wave of extremism and terrorism".

The network's partners include the Kabul-based Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies as well as Singapore's Religious Rehabilitation Group, which counsels terror detainees, and the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group, which helps the families of those detained and works to reintegrate those who have been released.

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