Thursday, 30 July 2015

Singaporean deported from Turkey, detained here for attempt to join ISIS

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2015

A 51-year-old Singaporean who was on his way to Syria to join militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Mustafa Sultan Ali is the first Singaporean to be arrested abroad for trying to join ISIS, which has attracted 30,000 foreign fighters to territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, including about 1,000 from South-east Asia.

He also told the Singapore authorities that he was prepared to carry out attacks here, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement yesterday.

Mustafa, whose occupation was not disclosed by MHA, left Singapore in late May for a neighbouring country and boarded a flight to Turkey from there. He took that route in the hope of hiding his tracks.

Mustafa planned to cross into Syria from the Turkish border, but was detained by the authorities in Turkey. He was deported to Singapore and arrested last month.

"Investigations showed that Mustafa had been deeply radicalised by the terrorist ideology of ISIS and other radical ideologues he had come across online," the MHA said.

"He had travelled to Turkey and tried to make his way to Syria in order to participate in armed violence by fighting alongside ISIS.

"Mustafa also said that he was prepared to carry out ISIS-directed terrorist attacks against Western establishments in Singapore."

Mustafa was issued with a two-year order of detention under the ISA this month.

He is the second person to be detained for terror-related activity this year. In April, student M. Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i, 19, was detained for having made plans to join ISIS in Syria. He also said if he could not do so, he intended to carry out violent attacks here, including to assassinate the president and prime minister. Last month, a 17-year-old self-radicalised youth who had made plans to join ISIS was placed under a restriction order, which limits his activities.

Yesterday, community leaders greeted the announcement of Mustafa's case with dismay, and said it highlighted the worrying reach of ISIS' radical ideology.

They also felt it was worrying that his radicalisation was not detected until his capture abroad.

Dr Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group which counsels terror detainees, said the latest case was a reminder that such ideology does not appeal only to impressionable youths, and that the threat posed by such virulent ideas to the region and Singapore was growing.

Dr Mohamed said the Muslim community had to continue efforts to promote a better understanding of the true teachings of Islam, such as promoting peace and respect for followers of other faiths.

But individuals should also look out for warning signs of radicalisation, he said. "We need to monitor not only young people, but also anyone who has the tendency to become radicalised."

At least two Singaporeans are known to have gone to Syria to join ISIS, and both have taken their families and young children along. They are still believed to be there.

The security authorities in the region are also concerned that their citizens fighting in Syria will pose a major threat when they return home, just as an earlier generation of radicals who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s posed a threat when they returned.

The MHA said the Government takes a very serious view of any form of support for terrorism, including but not limited to the use of violence, and will take firm and decisive action against anyone who engages in such activities.

Those who are aware that someone is involved in them should call 1800-2626-473 or 999, it added.

Questions over help received in bid to reach Syria
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2015

The announcement that a Singaporean has been detained for trying to join militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has revived questions over the reach of the group in South-east Asia, and why it continues to win followers.

A key concern, analysts say, is how much help Mustafa Sultan Ali, who was captured in Turkey and deported last month, received in his bid to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.

Counter-terrorism analysts said accounts of how fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia made their way to Syria suggest that ISIS may have cultivated a South-east Asian network of online recruiters capable of communicating with, and arranging passage for, would-be fighters from the region to enter Turkey and then Syria.

Mr Jasminder Singh of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said Mustafa likely made contact with an ISIS fighter or recruiter through social media.

"For him to fly to Turkey, he would most likely have made contact with an agent - someone from the other side to take him across the land border to Syria," he said.

This agent would likely have been a European or Malaysian fighter who spoke to him in English or Malay, Mr Singh added.

He said there is also the possibility that Mustafa might have met a secondary handler in the neighbouring country he travelled to.

Mr Singh noted that the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of militants have been routinely shared on extremist websites and on social media.

He believes Mustafa likely travelled to Turkey through Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia to avoid being detected by security agencies.

Experts also say Mustafa's case is significant, given that a large number of those investigated for radical activity in recent years tend to be youths or young adults.

At 51, Mustafa has a profile similar to that of members of regional terror group Jemaah Islamiah detained from around 2001 who, like ISIS, sought to establish a caliphate.

Fellow RSIS analyst Vikram Rajakumar said that for a middle-aged person with some religious grounding to embrace ISIS' ideology could mean he has a strong anti-establishment streak, for instance.

"If you have a perceived way of how you want to live your life, and you are unable to do so, you might see this as an avenue out... where you leave your worldly belongings and have a fresh start in some utopia," he said.

He added: "Ideologically, if this person is for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate and he is unable to travel to Syria to fight, Singapore then becomes a target."

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