Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Ministry of Home Affairs warns against distributing radical works

By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent and M Abul Kalam Azad, Chief Reporter, The Daily Star, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2016

Those who distribute publications that promote radical leanings will be dealt with firmly under the law, the authorities here warned.

"Anyone found doing so will be investigated for purveying extremist ideas," a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman said yesterday.

"The authorities take a very serious view of the distribution and propagation of radical teachings and ideology," the spokesman added in a reply to The Straits Times.

He was asked whether hardline material was being handed out here, after an English newspaper in Bangladesh, the Dhaka Tribune, reported on Saturday that books spreading radical teachings were being distributed to Bangladeshi workers in Little India this month.

The report comes six months after Singapore announced the arrest of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers. The men, who were sharing militant books and videos, met weekly and were recruiting other workers. They were nabbed under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in November and December last year.

All have since been deported, and 14 were arrested by the Bangladeshi authorities upon their return.

A second group of radicalised men were picked up between late March and early April. Another eight Bangladeshi workers were arrested for being members of a clandestine group that called itself the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB).

They were planning to foment violence back home to topple the government, and set up a caliphate under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

Six were charged with financing terrorism - four were sentenced to between two and five years in jail this month and two have claimed trial. Another two remain in detention under the ISA.

Five others who were not involved in ISB but had shared radical material were deported, and arrested on arrival in Bangladesh.

The two waves of arrests have prompted Singapore leaders to warn that while those arrested were funding and plotting attacks on targets back home, they could easily have turned their attention to Singapore targets.

Just last week, the Ministry of Communications and Information banned Al Fatihin, a hardline newspaper published by Furat Media, a media agency linked to ISIS.

The ban makes it an offence to distribute the newspaper, largely in Bahasa Indonesia, by any means.

There are an estimated 160,000 Bangladeshi nationals here, mostly work permit holders doing manual jobs at construction sites and shipyards.

When reporters spoke to a dozen Bangladeshi workers in Little India yesterday, none was aware of radical literature being distributed.

"I haven't seen or heard copies of objectionable books being distributed in this area in recent weeks," said Mr Abu Taher, a worker in his 30s at Hirajheel Restaurant near Mustafa Centre. He has been working in Singapore for over a year. "This open activity is quite impossible after the crackdown on suspected Bangladeshi militants," he added.

A large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers living in various places in Singapore gather in the area every Sunday to meet and chat.

Workers Mohammad Uzzal and Khakon Chandra, both in their 40s, said some of their countrymen used to meet in groups and talk in hushed tones in the area on Sundays, but they have not seen anything like that recently.

When asked about the reports of radical material and books being distributed, several workers reacted angrily. They said that even if the report were true, it would be damaging for Bangladeshi workers in Singapore who are already in the spotlight because of the recent arrests of their radicalised countrymen.

Several Bangladeshi workers whom The Straits Times interviewed after the earlier arrests felt that their companies and dormitories were already keeping a lookout for radical behaviour.

The discovery and detention of the radicalised workers has also led many in their circles to avoid talking about the issue for fear that they might lose their jobs.

Mr Abdul Khaeer Mohammed Mohsin, editor of local Bengali newspaper Banglar Kantha, said the latest development showed that Singapore remains a target for the likes of ISIS to recruit supporters.

"Singapore is a peaceful place and we have to remain vigilant," said the Singapore permanent resident.

ISIS-linked newspaper banned in Singapore
Al Fatihin a means to spread group's propaganda abroad, with aim to radicalise and recruit S-E Asians, says MCI
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Jul 2016

A hardline newspaper published by a media agency linked to terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been banned.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday gazetted Al Fatihin, which is produced by Furat Media, as a prohibited publication under the Undesirable Publications Act.

This makes it an offence to distribute the newspaper, which is largely in Bahasa Indonesia, by any means.

It will also be an offence to possess the newspaper, or have a copy but fail to give it to the police, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said in a statement.

"ISIS is a terrorist group which poses a serious threat to the security of Singapore. Al Fatihin is yet another step by ISIS to spread its propaganda abroad, with a clear intention to radicalise and recruit South- east Asians to join ISIS," MCI added.

"The Singapore Government has zero tolerance for terrorist propaganda and has therefore decided to prohibit Al Fatihin in Singapore."

Al Fatihin, which means "The Conqueror" in Arabic, was launched online last month to coincide with Ramadan, a time when Muslims seek to deepen their faith.

In its first edition, the 20-page paper distorts Islamic teachings to call on readers to commit violence, seek martyrdom and kill disbelievers and Muslims who oppose ISIS.

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister- in-charge of Cyber Security as well as Muslim Affairs, said ISIS' intention to use Al Fatihin to spread its extremist ideology in the region was "deplorable".

"The contents of Al Fatihin and the fact that it is published in Bahasa Indonesia, which is used by many in this region, confirm the objectives behind the publication to influence the people in this region and to cause disharmony," he said.

"Extremism has no place in Singapore - it cannot and must not take root here. We take a very strong stance against terrorist propaganda and we will take decisive action as necessary."

The ban comes amid growing concern over ISIS influence spreading in this region and reports that ISIS has declared a province in the southern Philippines.

ISIS' South-east Asian fighters' unit, Katibah Nusantara, has also produced propaganda videos in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia featuring Malaysian, Indonesian and Filipino fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Malaysia's Home Ministry said last week that it would take action against those caught producing and distributing Al Fatihin. Al Fatihin also identifies Bangladesh and the Philippines as areas of conflict.

Senior analyst Jasminder Singh of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research said Al Fatihin has been widely disseminated on social media and remains easily obtained online.

But the move to ban it is important, as it will raise awareness that it is not an innocent religious document even if it masquerades as one.

"Some people might come upon the newsletter and ask what's wrong with talking about Ramadan, or talking about the concept of jihad, without being aware that it is trying to propagate the ideology of ISIS," he told The Straits Times.

The ban "will increase public awareness about why we should stay away from it", Mr Singh added.

Under the Undesirable Publications Act, those convicted of publishing, distributing or reproducing a prohibited publication or an extract from it can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for up to three years, or face both penalties.

Subsequent offenders can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for up to four years, or both.

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