Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Five maids working in Singapore radicalised

But they didn't pose imminent threat, and were among 70 foreigners probed in past two years
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2016

In the past two years, five maids working in Singapore were radicalised, although they "did not pose an imminent security threat" at the time, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

The maids were among some 70 foreigners investigated during that period, and had been radicalised through social media. Some of the foreigners were later deported after the authorities in their home countries were informed of their cases.

The statement yesterday came after Indonesia's anti-terror police commandos rounded up four women in the past week on suspicion of terrorism. Among them was Dian Yulia Novi, 27. She had worked in Singapore between 2008 and 2009, said an MHA spokesman.

Dian had allegedly been planning to mount a suicide bomb attack on the presidential palace in Jakarta. In a television interview broadcast last Tuesday, she said she was first exposed to radical Islam through Facebook by opening profiles of extremists while working as a maid abroad.

She worked for a family with three children here, and as a maid for three years in Taiwan.

But Dian did not show signs of being radicalised during her time in Singapore, said the MHA spokesman, who added: "Our security agencies are in contact with their counterparts regarding her case."

Most of the 70 foreigners investigated in the past two years "were radicalised through their exposure to radical propaganda on social media", said MHA. Some then radicalised others using radical propaganda from online sources.

The Straits Times understands that the five maids were among those radicalised via social media.

While they did not plan to carry out acts of violence in Singapore at the time they were investigated, their presence posed a security concern for Singapore, MHA said.

Six Bangladeshis charged with offences under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act are serving their sentences here.

With radicalisation through the Internet being a worldwide phenomenon, MHA said social media platform owners have to ensure "their platforms are not used to promote radicalism and terrorism".

A more effective approach in the longer term may be sensitising the public to the dangers of extremist rhetoric and equipping them with social media literacy so they will not be vulnerable to terrorist propaganda online, added the ministry. Those who notice people showing signs of radicalisation should inform the authorities.

"The security agencies meanwhile continue to work closely with their foreign counterparts to share intelligence on terrorism activities," said MHA.

Dian was a member of a cell based in Solo, Central Java. She had hidden a "rice cooker" bomb in her room, where she was arrested on Dec 10.

The arrests of Dian and three other women mark a shift in strategy, with Indonesian militants recruiting women instead of men to mount attacks, national police chief Tito Karnavian has said.

Maids from Indonesia said they were worried about being typecast after the news.

"It affects us too because people will think other Indonesians will end up the same way," said Ms Sri Hartatik, 35, who has worked here for 11 years. "It is common for Muslims, including domestic workers here, to read about religion on social media," she said. But not everyone does so, she added, and neither does she.

Mr Gary Chin, chief executive of maid agency Nation Employment, said that employers should watch out for sudden changes in their helpers' behaviour, show them concern and take an interest in who their friends are.

"If they sense anything amiss, they should inform the agency as well, so that we can arrange for counsellors or family members to speak to the domestic helper."

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, noted that militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is investing heavily in recruiting in cyber space.

While Singapore has secured its physical space, it "now needs to better protect its citizens and residents, including the labour population, from cyber radicalisation".

Woman in Jakarta bomb plot was a maid in Singapore
Suspect in plan to hit presidential palace claims she was first exposed to radical Islam through Facebook
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2016

A 27-year-old Indonesian woman arrested for allegedly planning to mount a suicide-bomb attack on the presidential palace in Jakarta had worked in Singapore as a maid.

In an interview with local TVOne news channel, Dian Yulia Novi also said she was first exposed to radical Islam through Facebook, while working as a maid.

"On Facebook, I opened profiles of jihadists, who had inspired me," she told TVOne senior reporter Ecep S. Yasa while in police custody. "I did not join any groups, just looked through, but became more curious," she said, adding that she collected articles and audio clips of religious teachings on the Internet.

The woman, from Cirebon in West Java province, said she had worked in Singapore for 1 ½ years for a household with three children aged five, nine and 11. She also said she was "active" on Facebook and spoke English there.

Dian did not say when she was employed, but Indonesian media said she was working in Singapore in 2014. She told the news channel that she had also worked in Taiwan as a maid for three years. While working as a maid, she said she wore a headscarf but not a veil, and had never taken a day off.

Dian is one of two women from a group of seven who were nabbed at the weekend over a plot to strike the office complex of President Joko Widodo with a 3kg high- grade rice-cooker bomb.

They were being prepared to be suicide bombers by a new terrorist cell based in Solo that was set up by Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian militant who is in the Middle East fighting alongside Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

During the TV interview on Tuesday, she was asked if she did not fear God's wrath for wanting to hurt people on a massive scale. She said she did it "for the sake of Allah".

Dian said she was introduced to Nur Solihin, who was also arrested in the raid, by somebody on social media, and she chatted with him on Telegram. They got married three months ago. She knew he was married and has children.

The couple never exchanged photographs or met each other. In fact, she did not even turn up for her wedding - she sent a representative for the marriage solemnisation instead, she said.

ISIS uses social media to proselytise and encourage sympathisers to stage attacks at home. Terror analysts say these women were "victims", dragged into terrorism through marriage.

The Islamic authorities in countries such as Egypt and Singapore, for instance, have begun to counter false teachings and use social media platforms to explain and promote proper teachings online.

Professor Salim Said, a military expert at the Indonesia Defence University, told The Straits Times that female suicide bombers are a "new phenomenon in South-east Asia".

"From the interview, she didn't sound intelligent, but naive. Without critical thinking skills, she was easily brainwashed and used by terrorists to suit their purposes."

KL minister: ISIS may be eyeing region as next base
The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2016

KUALA LUMPUR • Terrorist group ISIS is now "desperate" and may be looking to the ASEAN region as its next terror base instead of the Middle East, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said.

His views dovetailed with recent analysis by other security officials, that with its territory shrinking, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is more and more eyeing South-east Asia as a new base.

"The Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups have stated their support for the Islamic State," he said, using an alternative name for ISIS.

"If they (ISIS fighters) flee from Iraq and Syria - as what is happening now in Aleppo, Mosul and Raqqa - I hope the cooperation between ASEAN countries can be increased as there is a possibility that they might create an Islamic caliphate in our region."

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin was speaking to reporters after attending the graduation ceremony for officers at the Royal Military College on Saturday.

"That is why strong regional cooperation among ASEAN countries is vital to prevent this from happening. We have to cooperate closely to make sure these worries do not become a reality," he said.

"They (ISIS militants) are quite desperate. If they have already gained a foothold in the region, by then it will be too late."

Mr Hishammuddin said that one example of ASEAN cooperation on the issue was the trilateral agreement between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, under which they would conduct coordinated patrols, joint patrolling and hot pursuits in the seas off Sabah and the southern Philippines. "These three SOPs (standard operating procedures) have been agreed upon and are now at a level that we have never seen before," he added.

Earlier this month, the commander of the Indonesian military, General Gatot Nurmantyo, warned that ISIS - which is in retreat in Iraq and Syria due to battle-zone pressure from internationally backed forces - is building its base in Mindanao, a restive island that borders Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

The United Nations has estimated that there are 516 Indonesians, 100 Filipinos, 100 Malaysians and two Singaporeans who have left home to fight for ISIS.

Experts say these militants can be expected to take the fight back home if they are flushed out of Iraq and Syria in the months ahead.

Gen Gatot said the recent rise in abductions by terrorist groups from vessels passing through the southern Philippines' waters indicates that ISIS militants in the area are raising money to build the base.

Militants believed to be linked to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group have kidnapped dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors and demanded millions of dollars in ransom.

It is unclear how much ransom money the group has collected so far, but the Philippines' Inquirer newspaper reported in October that Abu Sayyaf pocketed at least 353 million pesos (S$10.2 million) in ransom from January to June.

Abu Sayyaf has pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who, in turn, has appointed former Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, alias Abu Abdullah al-Filipini, as leader of ISIS forces in South-east Asia.

Gen Gatot argued that ISIS, which he said is motivated more by economic factors than ideology, had chosen South-east Asia as its future headquarters because its lucrative financial sources in the Middle East have been severely reduced.



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