Sunday, 31 July 2016

Singaporean detained under Internal Security Act for glorifying ISIS, inciting violence

Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, detained under ISA for promoting violence and ISIS, radicalising others
44-year-old's postings exploited religion to legitimise terror, radicalising at least 2 citizens

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2016

A Singaporean who actively spread radical ideology online, incited violence and radicalised at least two fellow citizens has been detained under the Internal Security Act.

Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, 44, had been living in Australia for 14 years, after leaving Singapore with his family shortly after run-ins with Muslim leaders and the authorities.

But when he returned here on July 1, he was arrested for terrorism-related activities, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

Zulfikar made many Facebook posts that promoted and glorified terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and its violent actions like the beheading of its captives, "while exploiting religion to legitimise the terrorist activities of ISIS", it said.

"He has further exhorted Muslims to take up arms and wage militant jihad in places like the Middle East, Palestinian territories, Myanmar and the Philippines," it added.

His postings led to at least two Singaporeans becoming radicalised.

He also planned to hold training programmes to persuade young Singaporeans to join his extremist agenda of replacing Singapore's secular, democratic system with an Islamic state, using violence if necessary.

In a Facebook post last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was fortunate that the security agencies caught him before he could do more harm.

"Such extremist, violent beliefs have no place in our multiracial and multi-religious country," he said. "The Government will be alert to spot such individuals, but we need everyone's help to uphold and protect our harmonious way of life."

Zulfikar started becoming radicalised as early as 2001 after reading hardline materials, supporting groups such as Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah, and advocating that Muslims take up arms in Afghanistan after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.

In 2002, he was in the news for challenging mainstream Muslim leaders and agitating for primary school girls to be allowed to wear the headscarf in national schools.

In the same year, he resettled his family in Australia. He joined hardline group Hizbut Tahrir and kept contact with radical preachers.

Zulfikar cultivated an Internet following by forming an online group called Al-Makhazin - Arabic for "the magazine" - in 2013. He used Facebook to create platforms purportedly to counter the Western media.

But the true intent of these pages was to agitate on Muslim issues in Singapore to spread his ideology.

"Zulfikar has admitted that he had an ulterior motive for setting up a Facebook page called Al-Makhazin Singapore which he used as a platform to agitate on Muslim issues in Singapore and attack some Singaporean Muslims who did not share his views," said the ministry.

"His real agenda was in fact to provoke Muslims in Singapore into pushing for the replacement of the democratic system with an Islamic state in Singapore," it added.

He also said he hid his ulterior motive from the Singaporean members of Al-Makhazin Singapore.

Zulfikar, who made several trips here between 2002 and 2014, revealed that he had taken up Australian citizenship, the ministry said.

He also got state grants and unemployment benefits in Australia.

The two Singaporeans he radicalised are security guard Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, 29, who was detained last July; and businessman Mohamad Saiddhin Abdullah, 33, who got a Restriction Order this month that limits his movements.

"The Government takes a very serious view of efforts to undermine Singapore's constitutional democracy, and will take firm and decisive action against any person who engages in such activities," said the ministry.

The director for religious policy at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, called on his community not to let extremist views take root as they will destroy social harmony. "For Muslims in Singapore, there is neither incompatibility nor contradiction between practising Islam and living in Singapore," he added.


Preaching extremism 'dangerous, pernicious'
Shanmugam: Those who incite others to commit violence more dangerous than those seeking to do physical harm
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2016

Individuals who preach extremism and influence others to commit violence are more dangerous than those who seek to inflict physical harm on others, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Calling these ideologues' actions a "dangerous, pernicious influence", he said Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, who was detained this month for terrorism-related activities, sought to turn ordinary Singaporeans into terrorists. "He really wanted to brainwash Muslims in Singapore to reject the democratic nation state and instead have an Islamic caliphate," Mr Shanmugam told reporters following the announcement of the arrests under the Internal Security Act (ISA) yesterday.

Zulfikar, 44, radicalised two Singaporeans: security guard Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, 29, who was detained last July, and businessman Mohamad Saiddhin Abdullah, 33, who was issued a Restriction Order this month.

Mr Shanmugam's comments were underscored by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who said in a Facebook post that the Government will take firm action against anyone who agitates to divide Singaporeans or sow conflict here through religious extremism.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister, said there is a clear difference between advocating a cause through social activism and glorifying terrorism under the cover of religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Zulfikar, who migrated to Australia with his family in 2002, had made several postings on social media supporting the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"Radicalising people, recruiting people to go and fight overseas, glorifying ISIS and taking steps to say there should be an Islamic caliphate in Singapore - that, for us, crosses the line," Mr Shanmugam said. He disclosed that the authorities had been watching Zulfikar for some time to gather evidence. They could not act earlier because he was overseas. He was arrested when he came to Singapore this month.

The minister pointed out that Zulfikar had no qualms about collecting unemployment benefits in Australia. "He apparently was on the dole there, so he was getting money from the Australian taxpayer while criticising the democratic, secular system which was feeding him."

He also noted that a 17-year-old male put on a Restriction Order this month is the first madrasah-educated person to be arrested for terrorism-related activities.

The youth became radicalised after accessing online pro-ISIS videos, websites and social media posts.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that people should not have the impression that there is a problem with madrasahs or the Muslim community.

"The mainstream of our Muslim community and... of our madrasah community are Singaporeans. They believe in the ideals of Singapore, just like our Chinese Singaporeans, Indian Singaporeans," he said.

What needs a closer watch, he added, is the extremist influences and teachings sweeping the region. He was sanguine about Singapore's approach in detaining radicalised individuals. Of the 81 detained since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, two have relapsed.

One of them is Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid, 27, who was detained in April for wanting to join a terror group like ISIS. He had been detained in 2010 but was released on a Restriction Order in 2012.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "When you rehabilitate and you release, obviously you're taking a risk... you hope they go on to lead meaningful lives but you must understand that there could be relapses."


Detainee first made headlines in 2002
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2016

Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff's detention under the Internal Security Act this month is his latest brush with the authorities and the law.

The controversial figure has agitated on Muslim issues in the past, and sought to sow discord.

He first made headlines in 2002 as head of fringe group Fateha. After Singapore announced the arrest of 13 members of the Jemaah Islamiah regional terror network early that year, he said the Government had prompted their intentions by "aligning itself so closely to the United States and Israel".

He sparked a confrontation that many Muslim Singaporeans were critical of, when he urged some parents to insist that their daughters attend school in tudung, or headscarves, contrary to the policy of having a common uniform.

Zulfikar hosted politicians from Malaysia's Parti Islam SeMalaysia and went to Malaysia to speak on the issue and draw international attention to it. His approach drew criticism from Muslim leaders.

After police began looking into possible criminal defamation of then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim in Zulfikar's online postings, he left for Australia with his family.

He became a research fellow with Monash University, and led an organisation called the Association For Democracy In Singapore that purported to push for free speech.

It counted opposition figures such as J. B. Jeyaretnam, Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and former Workers' Party election candidate Tang Liang Hong among its advisers.

In 2013, Zulfikar, who had enrolled in a PhD programme in international relations at La Trobe University, set up the Al-Makhazin website and linked Facebook groups to champion what he saw as issues affecting Muslims.

As it turned out, the site was a front to spread his radical agenda: to replace Singapore's democracy with an Islamic state, even as he remained in Australia, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

When an Islamic religious teacher launched the controversial Wear White campaign in 2014 against homosexuality and the annual Pink Dot event by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Zulfikar was among the loudest supporters of Wear White.

After the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) proclaimed its caliphate that year, Zulfikar openly displayed support for the group and its military advances on Facebook, and radicalised at least two others.

He also uploaded a photograph of himself with five of his six children in front of a black flag associated with ISIS, mimicking a pose adopted by the group's fighters.

And he joined hardline group Hizbut Tahrir, which seeks to unify all Muslim countries into a caliphate.

He also kept company with radical preachers, including Australia's Musa Cerantonio, who has inspired foreigners to fight in Syria, and British-born Anjem Choudary, who faces trial in Britain over terrorism charges - while reportedly getting grants and benefits from the Australian government.



Detained Singaporean a controversial, outspoken figure
By Jonathan Pearlman, For The Sunday Times In Sydney, The Sunday Times, 31 Jul 2016

During his 14 years in Australia after migrating from Singapore, Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff became known as an outspoken and occasionally controversial figure who promoted Muslim causes, such as halal exports and Islamic finance, before falling out with some local community leaders.

Two of his friends interviewed by The Sunday Times expressed surprise at his detention in Singapore on terror-related charges earlier this month.

On Friday, Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that Zulfikar, 44, a Singaporean who also took up Australian citizenship, had been detained under the Internal Security Act. He was arrested on July 1 when he returned to Singapore for a visit.

The ministry said he had actively spread radical ideology online, incited violence and radicalised at least two Singaporeans. It said he had made many Facebook posts that promoted and glorified terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its violent actions.

The detention made headlines in Australia yesterday.

The authorities in Australia have not commented on the case or on whether they were involved in any investigation into Zulfikar.

"The Australian government is aware of the Singaporean Government's press statement that Mohamad Shariff Zulfikar has been arrested in Singapore for terrorism-related activities," a spokesman for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told The Sunday Times last night.

"Consular officials are seeking to provide assistance to Mr Mohamad Shariff. However, Singapore does not recognise dual nationality, and Mr Mohamad Shariff is being treated as a Singaporean citizen. For privacy reasons, no further comment will be provided on this case."

The Australian Federal Police would not comment yesterday on whether it had investigated Zulfikar or had any involvement in his arrest in Singapore.

"We don't comment on individuals," a spokesman said.

A close friend in Melbourne, who did not want to be named, said Zulfikar recently claimed that he did not believe he would face trouble if he returned to Singapore.

The friend said Zulfikar "has strong views and that may put people off". "It is a bit of a shock," said the friend, who is active in the Muslim community, of the arrest.

After leaving Singapore for Australia, Zulfikar spent his initial years in Melbourne as a researcher at Monash University before working at a business promoting halal products. He helped to organise a conference in Melbourne in 2007 to promote efforts to encourage Australian halal exports across the region, giving numerous interviews on the topic to local media.

He also worked in Islamic finance, doing sales and marketing from 2004 to 2006 for the Muslim Community Cooperative of Australia. He is well known in the Muslim community in Victoria state, where there are about 150,000 Muslims, who make up some 3 per cent of the population. The close friend said: "He has been under the radar (in Melbourne) for the last four or five years. He had some personality clashes with community leaders."

In recent years, there have been numerous terror attacks and alleged plots in the state capital Melbourne, as well as in Sydney, mainly involving radicalised teenagers.

MHA said Zulfikar embarked on the path of radicalism as early as 2001 and joined hardline group Hizbut Tahrir in Australia. The global organisation, founded in Jerusalem in 1953, seeks to replace the system of nation-states with a caliphate.

In recent years, Zulfikar has been completing a PhD in international relations at La Trobe University in Melbourne and is believed to have been in his final year of studies.

Ministers, community leaders warn of terrorist ideology spreading online
Yaacob urges Singaporeans to be alert to those who seemingly support terrorism - quick action is critical
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2016

By exhorting others on Facebook to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), radical ideologue Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff "sat on an armchair in Australia and flagrantly sacrificed the lives of the gullible", said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli yesterday.

That was reprehensible and irresponsible, said Mr Masagos in a Facebook post on Zulfikar, whose detention under the Internal Security Act was announced yesterday.

Mr Masagos was among several ministers and community leaders who commented on Zulfikar's arrest, saying it highlights the danger of terrorist ideology spreading on social media.

Said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim: "No country can fully block the Internet and prevent what comes in. What is more important is the resilience and cohesion of the nation and our people."

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister- in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said that Singaporeans must be alert to those who seemingly support terrorism in whatever form.

This is because quick action by citizens to report any potential threats to the authorities is critical for combating the spread of extremism.

Singaporeans should also not hesitate to condemn terrorist groups that employ violence in the name of Islam, he added.

Zulfikar was also denounced as a wolf in sheep's clothing by several Muslim leaders.

Said Mr Masagos: "His radical view of Islam is cloaked with quotes that looked religiously sound to those looking for answers to life."

He urged Muslim Singaporeans to be wary of such views that appear sound but find little traction with most Muslim scholars.

Instead, they should confer with properly qualified scholars who have always stressed the importance of resolving conflicts in a peaceful manner, he said. "We should immediately... turn away from those who incite anger and violence in every sentence they post."

Dr Nazirudin Mohamed Nasir of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, said the path to radicalisation begins with sympathising with radical ideologies.

"We must always seek answers from credible sources. This becomes even more important when information is readily available from open sources such as the Internet and social media," he said.


Minister for Family and Social Development Tan Chuan-Jin pointed out that "it's one thing to not support the government of the day but it's another to undermine one's own country".

He added: "To seek to establish radical ideology here is to destroy the very basis of what we exist for - which is to build a Singaporean Singapore, regardless of race, language or religion."

Community leaders also said it was important to speak out immediately against extremist posts and false teachings.

Responses should be loud, said Association of Muslim Professionals chairman Abdul Hamid Abdullah. "If you're confident it is not Islam, correct it on the spot. If you remain silent, your inaction may contribute to the dissemination of wrong information."

Mr Ahmad Tashrif Sarman, 29, assistant secretary of the Bukit Batok Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, said every bit of response to such social media posts helps. "If we leave them alone, they become more radical."

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu called on Singaporeans to stay united and not let extremism poison the relations between people of different religions.

"Let's stand together with our Muslim friends, as one united people, to keep Singapore safe for all," she wrote on Facebook.

Bishop Wee Boon Hup, vice-president of the National Council of Churches Singapore, said: "Most Singaporeans, whether of faith or not of faith, know this is the view of a few disaffected individuals."

Inter-faith relations here are strong, he added. "Over the years, we have built enough trust in each other to weather this kind of event."

Man detained again, restrictions for teen
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2016

Six years ago, Singaporean Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning to engage in armed violence.

He was released from detention in 2012 and placed on a Restriction Order (RO), which limited his movements and activities.

However, Fadil, now 27, relapsed and was detained under the ISA again for two years in April this year. He intended to join a terror group like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and take up arms in Syria, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

The ministry also announced that a 17-year-old male Singaporean, who recently graduated from a madrasah here, was issued with an RO for two years this month.

The youth, who was not named, is the first known graduate of a local madrasah to be radicalised in a manner that required action to be taken against him.

In Fadil's case, the then full-time national serviceman had surfed the Internet for militant material and videos, and made contact with radical ideologue Anwar Al-Awlaki and an Al-Qaeda recruiter who encouraged him to fight in Afghanistan.

After his release, he made some progress in reintegrating into society, but he became drawn to radical online material again, the ministry said. "He became convinced that partaking in the violence in Syria was 'justifiable jihad' and harboured the intention to fight alongside ISIS militants in Syria.

"He had to be detained to prevent him from pursuing his violent agenda," the ministry added.

As for the 17-year-old former student, the ministry said investigations showed he had become radicalised online from accessing pro-ISIS videos, websites and social media.

"He became convinced that ISIS' violent actions were justified and harboured the intention to fight for ISIS in Syria in the future where he was prepared to die a martyr. He had sought out other like-minded individuals online, and also tried to influence his friends with his pro-ISIS views," the ministry said.

"Despite their advice and objections against ISIS, he persisted in his support for ISIS," it added.

He was placed on RO "to prevent him from going further down the path of radicalism and violence".

Those on RO are not allowed to move house, change jobs, travel abroad or make public statements without permission from the Internal Security Department's director.

Meanwhile, two other radicalised Singaporeans have shown improvement, the ministry said.

Self-radicalised lawyer Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader, 37, who was arrested abroad in 2007 and detained again in 2012 as he tried to travel to Syria to fight, was released conditionally on a suspension direction in February this year after the authorities said he no longer posed a security threat that needed preventive detention.

The RO placed on Rijal Yadri Jumari, 35, a former member of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) cell in Pakistan aimed at grooming JI leaders, was also allowed to lapse in March.

He was detained under the ISA from March 2008 to March 2012.

At present, there are 20 persons in detention and 22 on ROs.

Don't even 'share' extremist views: Yaacob Ibrahim
Singaporeans must learn to assess what online material should be rejected, says minister
By Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 31 Jul 2016

The detention of a Singaporean who spread terrorist ideology online is a reminder to not just reject such messages, but also to be careful when encountering such material online.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, speaking to reporters at a National Reading Day event yesterday at the National Library Building, said that even the sharing of such information is dangerous.

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in- Charge of Muslim Affairs, explained: "Our position must be when we come across something online which we think is egregious, which doesn't conform, we just delete it or just don't share it - we can just move on. Once you begin to share, you seem to be promoting it and that's not very healthy for us."

His comments came a day after it was revealed that 44-year-old Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff had been spreading radical ideology online, including support for terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and had radicalised at least two other citizens. He used Facebook to create platforms purportedly to counter the Western media. But the true intent of these pages was to agitate on Muslim issues in Singapore to spread his ideology.

Dr Yaacob said it is easy for people, including children, to stumble across extremist information on the Internet, which is "thriving" with such material.

Since it is impossible to police every website, people must be resilient and able to assess on their own the things they see, be it terrorism, pornography or other online material, he added.

"You may be reading it and then you spread the ideology because you think it's nice to read. That's where the danger starts, that's where you begin to cross a very sort of soft line where you actually may not be out there in the theatres of war... but we are basically promoting that ideology by sharing it and that's what we want to prevent from happening," he said.

Once people begin to entertain the idea of terrorist ideology, "you are basically sailing very close to the wind", he told reporters.

He said that the authorities have been monitoring the online situation, and are keeping tabs on people who subtly promote terrorist ideology in their writings or blog posts.

"We will continue to work with our community leaders, with our religious leaders, to ensure that the message of Islam - that we know is a religion of peace - gets embedded in the hearts and minds of fellow Singaporeans so that when they go onto the Internet, which you cannot block, they know what is right and what is wrong," he added.

At a separate event, Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said he believes the Malay/Muslim community supports Zulfikar's detention and urged Singaporeans not to take the country's carefully built peace and harmony for granted and to work to preserve them.

"We need to pay attention to what our youth and we as well read on the Net," he said.

"We need to get involved in citizen activities so we know our neighbours and know what it really means to live in harmony."

Speaking on Friday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam stressed how Singapore has spent decades building tolerance, acceptance and appreciation across religious and racial lines, and ensuring that minorities feel they have a stake in the country.

This includes policies that encourage different races to live alongside one another in Housing Board flats, adequate parliamentary representation through the group representation constituency system and fair participation in other aspects of life, including business and academia.

He said: "Now, we also have to say a big 'no' to extremism and all teachings that tend towards extremism. Otherwise, the ground would become fertile for extremist teachings to be absorbed, and then for terrorism."

Battle against extremism: Singapore takes a ‘different approach’ on race, religion: Shanmugam
So far, it has worked but global events show the allure of radicalism remains potent: Shanmugam
By Chong Zi Liang, The Sunday Times, 31 Jul 2016

Singapore's management of ethnic and religious differences has dampened the lure of extremism in the country, but global events show the allure of radicalism remains very potent, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam.

In recent months, there has been a wave of terrorist attacks in Europe, and France, in particular, has been hit hard.

This has led some to ask "Why France?", Mr Shanmugam told reporters on Friday when the Government announced that four men have been arrested under the Internal Security Act for terrorism-related activities.

While he stressed that he does not have the answer, he noted the "slightly different approach" France and Singapore take on race and religion.

He compared four key areas, even as he acknowledged that France - a large country with a long history - is unlike Singapore.

For instance, French official documents do not record the ethnic identity of its citizens. In Singapore, identity cards state the race of an individual and some Singaporeans have asked about the need for it. "Many people say, in the IC why are they saying 'race'...why not just say Singaporeans?" he said.

Although Singapore has somewhat succeeded in forming a Singaporean identity, he said ethnic differences have not gone away.

"They are not going to go away any time soon. Let's recognise them and then let's see how we work on them to achieve a higher ideal," he added.

Singapore also forbids the denigration of religion that many Western countries allow in the name of freedom of speech.

"We will not, for example, allow the kind of religious satire that publications can put up, of Catholic nuns engaging in sexual acts or burning of the Quran, in the US under the framework of freedom of speech,'' Mr Shanmugam said.

He added: "Such publications won't be allowed. Burning of religious books will not be allowed. So we take a stricter approach."

Also, Singapore's housing policies prevent ethnic enclaves from being formed. "We live in mixed communities and that's part of our ethnic integration policy - active intervention by the state," he said.

Such ethnic enclaves are found in many countries, including France, but "whether that resulted in these attacks, I can't say", he stressed.

Singapore also ensures adequate representation of different communities, he said, adding that minorities must feel they have a stake in society and fair participation in all aspects of life, including politics, business and academia.

Singapore's group representation constituency (GRC) system guarantees that minorities are represented in Parliament. "If you had a Parliament that did not have that representation... minority communities will feel different about their say and stake in what's happening."

Based on these fundamentals, Singapore has spent decades building tolerance, acceptance and appreciation across religious and racial lines, Mr Shanmugam said.

It is still a work in progress.

He added: "Minorities must not feel shut out unfairly. Meritocracy is important, but they must not feel that there are other factors at play that keep them out."

Community and religious leaders also subscribe to "a common vision for Singapore and a Singaporean identity and subscribe to a secular elected government".

Despite the progress, the fight against extremism is ongoing, he said, adding: "Now, we also have to say a big 'no' to extremism and all teachings that tend towards extremism. Otherwise, the ground would become fertile for extremist teachings to be absorbed and then for terrorism."

Returning to the question of why terrorists are targeting France, he said: "I'm in no position to say but we do some things differently from France based on our history, our geography, our culture. And, so far, it has worked for us but the currents sweeping across the world are very powerful and we are going to face challenging times."


Shanmugam: People must speak up against terror
It's important for Muslims and non-Muslims to take a stand against extremist acts and ideology, says minister
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2016

Singaporeans need to speak up against those who spread radical ideology and contribute to the radicalisation of others, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

This will help to build confidence within the community in the aftermath of such news, and go beyond what religious and political leaders are already doing, he said.

Last Friday, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, 44, had been detained under the Internal Security Act last month.

The Singaporean was found to have made numerous Facebook posts that promoted and glorified terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its violent acts such as beheadings, the ministry said.

These postings have contributed to the radicalisation of at least two other Singaporeans.

Speaking on the sidelines of the opening of a National Kidney Foundation dialysis centre in Nee Soon South yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said: "You will get Zulfikars around the world and you will get people in Singapore who get radicalised. What we need is to make sure that the mainstream, the middle ground, is solid."

He added that, while radicalised individuals here remain in the minority, it is important for Muslims and non-Muslims to take a stand against these acts to ensure that they are kept at bay.

"Whenever there is an ISIS atrocity, an attack around the world or in the region, you have the religious, political and the community leadership speaking up. All that is good but the average person on the street needs to speak up," he said.

Zulfikar moved to Australia with his family shortly after he was in the spotlight in 2002 for challenging mainstream Muslim leaders.

The fact that he became an Australian citizen thereafter was discovered during the course of investigations, said Mr Shanmugam, who added that it is illegal under Singapore law to have dual citizenship.

"We consider him a threat to Singapore and his activities were directed at us... We will treat him as a Singapore citizen," the minister said.

He also pointed out that Zulfikar had taken part in events here, such as the Wear White movement that defends traditional family values.

Yesterday, at the launch of the Guardians of the Family programme at ITE College Central, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu also stressed the need to prepare the community in the face of growing terror threats.

The programme aims to raise vigilance among women, who are often the main caregivers in the family, and equip them with essential emergency skills.

About 500 women attended the event, which was held under the national SG Secure anti-terror movement.

Clear evidence that detainee backed ISIS violence: Ministry of Home Affairs

By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2016

The Ministry of Home Affairs last night described as misleading a statement from the family of terror detainee Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff.

The statement was issued by his wife Shireen Abdul Samad to the media yesterday afternoon, and said information on his arrest did not paint a true picture of him and his comments online.

The family said claims by the ministry and others that Zulfikar supported terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were based on selected postings of his in 2014. But his stance changed that year after reports of violence and beheadings by ISIS, the family added.

In its reply, the ministry said the statement deals with only one aspect of the Internal Security Department(ISD) investigation and "provides a misleading picture".

"For example, it suggests that Zulfikar did not post any radical views after 2014, which is untrue. It is also clear that Zulfikar supported violence by ISIS, including beheadings, and that at a broader level, he supported the idea of a global Islamic caliphate and the use of violence to achieve this," the ministry said.

Zulfikar, a 44-year-old Singaporean who is based in Australia and also took up citizenship there, was arrested on July 1 when he returned here for a visit. He was detained for two years under the Internal Security Act (ISA) last month.

The ministry said yesterday: "Zulfikar will have the opportunity in due course to present his case to the ISA Advisory Board, which advises the President whether the Order of Detention should remain in force."

In announcing his arrest, the ministry said he made many Facebook posts glorifying ISIS and its violent actions - including beheadings.

He also exhorted Muslims to take up arms in places such as the Middle East and the Philippines, and his posts led at least two other Singaporeans to become radicalised.

The ministry also said he planned to hold training programmes to persuade others of his agenda to replace Singapore's democratic system with an Islamic state, using violence if necessary.

However, Zulfikar's family said he had "never encouraged or promoted others to join ISIS", and he was "not a violent person". It was also never his intention to establish a caliphate in Singapore or use violence, the family added, saying he was also never a member of hardline group Hizbut Tahrir, which seeks to establish a global caliphate.

Yesterday, the ministry said ISD's investigation into Zulfikar was for terrorism-related activities and covered a number of aspects.

One, the investigation showed that Zulfikar had contributed to the radicalisation of Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, who is currently detained under the ISA, and Mohamed Saiddhin Abdullah, who is on a Restriction Order.

"Muhammad Shamin had been radicalised to the extent that he wanted to go to the Middle East to fight with ISIS," the ministry said.

Two, admissions Zulfikar gave to the ISD during the investigation.

Three, evidence from other persons who were interviewed by ISD.

Four, Zulfikar's public statements that had been made online.

"On the basis of all the evidence, Zulfikar was established to be a security threat to Singapore and an Order for Detention was issued against him," the ministry added.

Zulfikar's wife said yesterday she was still in Singapore with their two youngest children, but their four older sons have just returned to Melbourne, where the family has been living since 2002.

*  How two Singaporeans were influenced by extremists through social media groups
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2020

Presenting himself as a man with deep knowledge of his religion, Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff convinced Mr Mohamad Saiddhin Abdullah that he should also show his support to terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Like Zulfikar, Mr Saiddhin had a photo taken of himself striking a pose common for ISIS fighters and posted it on his Facebook page.

He was hauled up by the authorities soon after.

Four years on, the operations manager in his late 30s said the man he looked up to was in reality a "con salesman" who deceived him and others into subscribing to radical ideology.

"Zulfikar uses charming words to 'goreng' (slang for convince) and is able to stir emotions to cause hatred and anger. He did this to portray the plight of Syrians in conflict inaccurately," said Mr Saiddhin in an interview with The Straits Times last week.

He and another Singaporean, who had regular encounters with Zulfikar, 49, and assisted in investigations, agreed to speak about him, saying it is an opportunity to warn others of the danger of falling prey to extremist influencers.

Zulfikar, who became an Australian citizen in 2011, had been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) since 2016 for terror-related activities.

He was in the news again recently after he was sentenced to six weeks' jail for lying in his application for a Singapore passport. He has renounced his Singapore citizenship and is currently in Changi Prison.

Both men ST spoke to said they did not know that Zulfikar had become an Australian until news of his recent conviction. They thought he was merely residing in Australia even as he was claiming to speak up on issues affecting Muslims in Singapore.

Through social media, Zulfikar spread hardline ideology and radicalised at least two Singaporeans, including Mr Saiddhin. The Home Affairs Ministry noted he had exhorted Muslims to take up arms abroad.

Mr Saiddhin was issued a Restriction Order in 2016, which lapsed in July this year. Under the order, his movements were restricted and he was not allowed to issue public statements without approval.

He said he got to know Zulfikar in 2012 online, and was invited by him to join the Al-Makhazin Facebook group. Mr Saiddhin said he was not very religious then and was impressed with Zulfikar's apparent knowledge and passion.

He said Zulfikar portrayed himself as a champion of Muslims in Singapore. Mr Saiddhin started reading items he posted on his personal Facebook page, crafted as though ISIS was saving Muslims by establishing an Islamic caliphate.

The beheadings ISIS carried out were brushed aside as fabrications by Zulfikar, who said Western media was biased and untrustworthy. "Having been convinced, I then reposted his articles and comments," said Mr Saiddhin.

Responding to queries from ST, a spokesman for the Internal Security Department (ISD) said painting ISIS and its agenda of creating an Islamic caliphate as being for the benefit of Muslims was a common tactic of Zulfikar's. He defended ISIS and its violent acts on social media, and shared propaganda on how good life was in Syria under ISIS rule.

He also posted emotive visuals depicting the plight of Muslims in the Syrian conflict to sway followers to the ISIS cause.

Academics who study radicalisation note that such social media groups, by feeding on grievances, build anger and hatred, making persons who are influenced more susceptible to be incited to violence.

Mr Saiddhin said he now knows that charismatic characters like Zulfikar, who are not religiously trained, can "use their charm to sway" the actual meaning of Islam. "After being guided by accredited ustaz, I realised religion cannot be something which is sold or marketed freely by people like him."


The other man, a middle-aged professional who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, shared how he felt manipulated and acknowledged that the use of the ISA against Zulfikar helped prevent him from harming others.

"Zulfikar had a way with words, he has some 'street-cred' based on his early activities on Muslim issues. Maybe that gave him credibility among some people," he said.

Zulfikar continued to harp on Malay/Muslim issues like the tudung. The man said this was discussed extensively by Zulfikar in a WhatsApp group he belonged to.

The group evolved into an online space where members would talk about various community issues.

Zulfikar also tried to mask his involvement by registering an Internet domain using a group member's name without the person's consent or knowledge.

Both men said they regularly chatted with him online and face to face, when he was in Singapore.

In the group chat, Zulfikar often dominated conversations and tried to convince others that his viewpoint was correct. "If you disagreed with him, then you are wrong. He was very stuck in his views, and quite stubborn in them," the professional said.

Zulfikar, it turned out, created such chat groups to provoke Muslims to reject and dismantle the secular state and establish an Islamic caliphate, the man added.

Said the ISD spokesman: "Such tactics would inadvertently appeal to those who already hold the view that the West was oppressing Muslims, and draw them further into Zulfikar's sphere of influence."

The four years under a Restriction Order took a toll on Mr Saiddhin, his wife and three young children initially, but he said it helped them become closer too.

Under the order, he was not allowed to travel and had to get approval before changing jobs. He also had to attend religious and psychological counselling.

But Mr Saiddhin said he was thankful for the support he received from his rehabilitation officers and counsellors.

He now understands the importance of critical thinking, and verifying information with credible sources. "I want to prevent someone else becoming like the fool I was, who suffered and caused my loved ones to suffer."

The making of a radical agitator

In July 2016, Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff was arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act for terrorism-related activities and for helping to radicalise at least two Singaporeans.

Zulfikar had been living in Australia since 2002, after leaving Singapore with his family shortly after various run-ins here with Muslim leaders and the authorities.

From about 2013, he had made numerous Facebook posts that promoted and glorified terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its violent actions like beheadings, "while exploiting religion to legitimise the terrorist activities of ISIS", said the Ministry of Home Affairs then.

His posts contributed to the radicalisation of at least two Singaporeans: Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, who was 29 when he was detained in July 2015, and Mr Mohamad Saiddhin Abdullah, who was issued with a Restriction Order in July 2016 that lapsed in July this year.

Zulfikar's track record goes back to 2002 when he challenged mainstream Muslim leaders and agitated for girls in primary schools to be allowed to wear the headscarf.

He resettled his family in Australia that year. He also joined hardline organisation Hizbut Tahrir, and established and maintained contact with radical preachers in Australia.

In 2011, he applied for Australian citizenship with his then 15-year-old son so that his child could evade his national service liabilities.

Zulfikar also cultivated an Internet following by setting up an online group called Al-Makhazin in 2013. He used Facebook to create numerous Al-Makhazin platforms with the claimed purpose of countering Western media.

On Oct 22 this year, he was sentenced to six weeks' jail for flouting the Passports Act after falsely declaring he had not obtained citizenship in another country when renewing his Singapore passport in 2013.

MHA: Detention and Releases under the Internal Security Act -29 Jul 2016
MHA: Additional Comments on the Detention & Releases under the Internal Security Act -30 Jul 2016

No comments:

Post a Comment