Tuesday, 13 June 2017

First Singaporean woman detained under Internal Security Act for radicalism planned to join Islamic State

• Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22-year-old PCF Sparkletots infant care assistant planned to join Islamic State terrorist group in Syria with daughter in tow to defend its self-declared "caliphate" and become 'martyr's widow'

• Her sister and parents - who are both freelance Quranic teachers knew of her ideological leanings but they did not alert the authorities

• One family member even destroyed important evidence relating to her plans to join ISIS, in order to try to minimise her acts, after she was placed under investigation

• Started becoming radicalised in 2013, at the age of 18, by online propaganda related to ISIS, developed wide network of foreign online contacts which included ISIS militants and supporters

• Actively posted and shared pro-ISIS materials online since 2014, social media platforms were taken down by administrators but she created new ones

• She boasted to a contact that the Singapore authorities had not detected her

• No threat to children under radicalised woman’s care

• Anyone who knows or suspects that a person is radicalised to call the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD)

Radicalised female infant care assistant from PCF Sparkletots detained under ISA for pro-ISIS activities
First woman held under ISA for pro-ISIS activities
22-year-old Singaporean was infant care assistant and wanted to be 'martyr's widow'
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2017

A 22-year-old Singaporean who planned to travel to Syria with her child has become the first female here to be detained for radicalism.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was not planning any attack here, but she had visions of becoming a "martyr's widow" for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). She was detained earlier this month under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Izzah was a contract infant care assistant with a PCF Sparkletots Preschool, which is run by the PAP Community Foundation, and worked with infants aged between two months and 18 months old.

But she was also becoming deeply radicalised - a process that started in 2013. From 2014, she started to actively post and share pro-ISIS material online.

"Several of her social media platforms were taken down by administrators because of the pro-ISIS content," said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Her parents, both freelance Quranic teachers, and her sister got to know of her radical views in 2015. They tried to dissuade her but did not alert the authorities.

Instead, when Izzah was being investigated, "important evidence was destroyed by a family member relating to her plans to join ISIS", said the MHA.

This was done to minimise the seriousness of her acts. The authorities are looking into taking action against this family member.

The MHA has pointed out in recent weeks that sharing information about an individual who is becoming radicalised could prevent a terrorist act - and help the person too.

"In Izzah's case, her family members did not bring her to the attention of the authorities when she was younger and could have potentially been turned back from the path of radicalisation," the MHA said.

As matters turned out, her radicalisation grew over time. She developed a wide network of foreign online contacts, including ISIS militants and their supporters, some of whom have since died fighting in Syria. Izzah also supported ISIS' use of violence.

Since 2015, she had been looking for an ISIS supporter to marry and settle down with in Syria with her young child. She believed that, if her husband died fighting, her status as a "martyr's widow" would help her marry another ISIS fighter easily.

"She also said that she was prepared to undergo military training and engage in armed combat to defend ISIS if called upon by the terrorist group to do so," said the MHA.

She boasted to a contact in April that the authorities here had not detected her. She was detained barely two months after that.

Last year, another woman, Dian Faezah Ismail, was placed under a Restriction Order after her husband was detained for being radicalised. But Dian herself was not detained and just had her movements and activities curtailed.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said it was important to seek help early from the religious authorities in cases of radicalisation.

"We are not here to condemn the individual. We condemn the act but we want to save the individual. We want to help him or her, who has gone astray. We want to bring him or her back to the straight path," said Dr Yaacob in a video posted on Facebook.

Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean called on all communities to remain united and support the efforts of security agencies.

"While we are not immune from an attack, we must not let those who advocate or seek to commit acts of violent extremism divide us," he said in a Facebook post.

Shanmugam calls for forging of bonds across racial lines

By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2017

While it may not always be possible to prevent a terror attack, it is possible for people to control how they react the day after, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam as he urged Singaporeans to build bonds across racial lines.

Speaking to reporters yesterday at the Home Team Academy's annual seminar on plans for the year, he said: "If we react in a divided way, if we react by pointing fingers, if we target any particular racial group or community, then we have lost and the terrorists have won."

Calling on Singaporeans to build a more integrated society, he said that people can be good citizens while at the same time being a "good Muslim, good Hindu, good Christian or completely agnostic".

Asked if Singaporeans would rally together after a terror attack as people had done in Paris and London, he said: "My own sense is that by and large, Singaporeans understand that any act (will be that) of isolated extremists, and based on that, I think we will react as a community."

Earlier, in his speech to Home Team officers at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority headquarters in Kallang, Mr Shanmugam said many recent attacks worldwide have been carried out by lone wolves, and the training for law enforcement officers must prepare them for that.

His remarks come a day after news broke that Singapore had detained earlier this month the first woman under the Internal Security Act for radicalism.

The family of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, a contract infant care assistant at a preschool, knew of her radicalism in 2015, but did not inform the authorities.

Mr Shanmugam reiterated the need for people to report individuals showing signs of radicalisation so that the authorities can work with their family, religious experts and counsellors to "get the person on the right path". "Imagine if they actually take up arms, go out there (and) do something. What is going to happen to them? So you are actually saving them," he said.

Government takes serious view of withholding of key security info
Vital to report loved ones early if they show signs of being radicalised: MHA
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2017

The Government said yesterday it takes a serious view of any withholding of information that is crucial to national security and the safety of Singaporeans, even as it stressed the importance of family members and friends reporting early those at risk of becoming radicalised.

It is especially stern in cases where the "failure to report leads to violent activities that could kill or cause harm to others", said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a statement.

The ministry also said that reporting potentially radicalised individuals early will give them the opportunity to receive proper guidance and counselling, keeping them from being led astray by extremist ideology.

This also means they may not need to be severely dealt with under the law, it added.

The ministry made this call to the community in a statement announcing that, for the first time, a woman had been detained under the Internal Security Act for radicalism.

Detainee Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, arrested earlier this month, is a 22-year-old Singaporean who was a contract infant care assistant at a PCF Sparkletots pre-school. The centre is run by the PAP Community Foundation, the charity arm of the People's Action Party.

"The heightened terrorism threat worldwide and in Singapore makes it imperative for family members and friends to raise to the authorities anyone they suspect of being radicalised or planning terror activities," said the ministry.

"Singapore can be made safer if family members and friends do this. The time between radicalisation and committing violence can be very short in some cases."

Relatives and friends, it added, are in the best position to notice possible signs of radicalisation, which include the propagating of terrorism- related images, videos and posts.

Izzah started to be radicalised by propaganda related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group on the Internet in 2013.

She was actively planning to travel with her young child to Syria to join ISIS, which has threatened attacks against Singapore.

She was prepared to take up arms in Syria on behalf of ISIS and supported its use of violence to establish its self-declared caliphate. Since 2014, she had actively posted and shared pro-ISIS materials online.

MHA said yesterday that the Government takes a stern view of anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise such violence ideologically or where the violence takes place.

It also said Izzah's family did not inform the authorities when she was younger. Potentially, she could have been turned back from the path of radicalisation, said MHA.

Izzah's parents, both freelance Quranic teachers, and one of her sisters came to know of her postings and intention to join ISIS in 2015. They tried to dissuade her on their own but were unsuccessful.

Security experts and religious leaders interviewed by The Straits Times yesterday urged the community to react swiftly in getting help.

Ustaz Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, said "a very small number" of people have asked the group for help with friends or family members who showed early signs of radicalisation, such as making pro-ISIS social media postings. The group of religious scholars and teachers then offers advice on how to debunk extremist teachings, and guides these individuals back to the right path.

"So far, none of the individuals has continued down the wrong path and to the stage that they are detained. It shows this approach - going to get help early - works," said Ustaz Mohamed.

Mr Jasminder Singh, senior analyst at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said the authorities would likely not be so "heavy-handed" with individuals who come forward of their own accord.

"You could save the person from being embarrassed, with this stigma of being detained," he said.

Security expert Kumar Ramakrishna of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said family members of these individuals "face a hard choice", and that there has to be discussion at the community level about the gravity of what needs to be done in such situations.

"My suggestion is that if there are concerns about family members being radicalised, it should at least be a statutory requirement for that individual's family to consult the religious authorities," said Dr Kumar.

Yesterday, MHA also noted that recent attacks around the world show terrorists using easily available objects such as vehicles and knives to commit violence. Such attacks, it said, would be difficult to prevent.

"Such an act would drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims and divide our communities, which is precisely what the terrorist groups want," the ministry said.

Tell-tale signs

For individuals in the process of being radicalised, their family members, relatives and friends are best placed to notice the tell-tale signs, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement yesterday.

The ministry listed some possible signs to look out for, and said the list is not exhaustive. These include:

• Avid reading of radical materials.

• Spreading and reposting terrorism-related pictures, videos and posts online.

• Expressing support for terror groups.

• Stating intentions to commit terrorist violence, or encouraging others to do so.

The ministry stressed that while the authorities are working hard to keep Singapore safe, they cannot do it alone.

"Every person in the community can help to protect Singapore and Singaporeans from the threat of terrorism," said the MHA.


Those with information on a person who may be radicalised can contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline on 1800-2626-473.

The community can also contact the following religious authorities:

• The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS): 6359-1199

• The Religious Rehabilitation Group: 1800-774-7747

Response depends on threat posed: MHA
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2017

Individuals in the early stages of radicalisation, and assessed to not pose a serious threat, may not be arrested at all. Instead, they could simply be referred for counselling.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) mentioned this yesterday while giving a detailed description of what happens after a report is made about a possibly radicalised individual.

The MHA spokesman said checks would be carried out to assess the veracity of a report. The checks would include speaking to the informer, whose identity would be protected.

If no indications of radicalisation are detected, no further action would be taken against the person reported, as well as the informer.

But if there is a basis to suspect radicalisation, that person would be interviewed by the authorities.

"How the investigation develops depends largely on the finding and the authorities' assessment of the threat posed by the individual," said the spokesman.

If found to be in the "nascent stages of radicalisation, he or she may be referred for counselling and other mitigating measures without the need for arrest", said the MHA.

The ministry said early reporting enables an individual who is at risk of being radicalised to be steered away from that path.

"(The individual) may not need to be severely dealt with under the law," said the MHA.

But the ministry added that it would not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act against anyone who is radicalised and has engaged in terrorist conduct.

"This includes any person who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how he rationalises such violence ideologically, or where the violence takes place," said the spokesman.

Father of first woman held under ISA for radicalism regrets not reporting her
The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2017

The father of the first woman detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) regrets not reporting his daughter to the authorities.

Mr Syaikh Abdu Manaf Al Ansari told Berita Harian last night that he and his wife had questioned Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari in late 2014, after noticing she had started dressing in black and wearing the niqab, a facial veil which reveals only the eyes. She was also using the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) flag as her WhatsApp display picture, he said.

"I asked if she was an ISIS member. She denied it but said she thought ISIS was fighting for Islam," said Mr Manaf, 49.

"I told her all well-known Islamic scholars reject ISIS. I asked, is it halal in Islam to kill innocent people, children and women? I told her to show me evidence from the Quran and sunnah (prophetic teachings) that it is halal. She just kept silent."

Izzah was detained earlier this month under the ISA for radicalism.

Mr Manaf and his wife, both Quranic teachers, gave Izzah - the second of five children - religious advice, and decided not to inform the authorities after she stopped wearing the niqab and started listening to music and watching films again.

"We thought she was okay. But we did not realise she had become more radical. She was smart at hiding herself," he said.

After Izzah was arrested, he found documents in her room with information about moving to Syria, including how to get tickets.

He felt "disgust and anger" and, in a bid to "protect her", threw the materials away. He told the authorities about them only during the investigation, and was given a warning.

"This should not have happened. I really regret it," he said.

He advised the public to contact the authorities or the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), which helps to counter radical ideology, if they notice suspicious changes in their loved ones. "To other parents, this comes from the bottom of my heart. If you see any sudden changes, et cetera, contact the authorities. If not (the authorities), contact RRG," he said.

Woman posed no threat to kids under her care, says MP
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2017

The radicalised infant care assistant detained under the Internal Security Act never posed a threat to the children under her care, said Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui yesterday.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, was a contract worker at the PCF Sparkletots Preschool at Block 385, Tampines Street 32.

Located in Ms Cheng's Tampines East ward, the pre-school is run by the charity wing of the People's Action Party, the PAP Community Foundation.

In a Facebook post, Ms Cheng assured parents that their children were safe. "We have been and will continue to work with the authorities and would like to assure parents that at no time was there a threat to the children under her care."

There is no evidence that Izzah tried to influence the children in the centre, the Home Affairs Ministry said yesterday. "There is also no indication that Izzah has tried to radicalise her colleagues."

It also said Izzah was the first case of radicalisation involving someone in the pre-school sector.

There are many excellent infant and childcare workers - many of them Muslims - who have taken meticulous care of the children in their charge, it said. "We should not let Izzah's case take anything away from the good work done by our Muslim staff in the pre-school sector."

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), which regulates the early childhood sector, said it had visited the centre.

"Based on our interactions with staff, we've assessed the children to be safe and well cared for," it said.

As an infant care assistant, Izzah worked under supervision in giving routine care to infants aged between two months and 18 months old at the centre. Her duties included helping to feed the infants, change their diapers and run playtime activities.

ECDA said she would always be supervised by trained staff.

Parents were told they could contact the centre's staff if they had questions on the matter.

Financial consultant Hong Wai Ling, 26, whose four-year-old daughter joined the centre this year, said: "I'd be worried if she influenced the kids but they are too young anyway."

Seeking expert help the best way to save loved ones: MUIS
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2017

Enlisting the help of religious experts is the best way to keep friends and family members from falling prey to radical ideology, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) yesterday.

It was a call made by several Muslim leaders yesterday, as news broke that 22-year-old Singaporean, Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, an infant care assistant, had been detained earlier this month for radicalism.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said last night that while there has been an increase in the number of radicalised individuals detected in recent years, the number of cases remains small.

"The vast majority of the Muslim community in Singapore are moderate and mainstream," it added in its statement.

Izzah's parents and sister had attempted to steer her away from the path of radicalisation when they came to know of her pro-ISIS social media postings in 2015.

But they did not succeed.

The incident, said MUIS in a statement, reinforces the fact that "we may not personally possess the capability to help those who are on the path to radicalisation, no matter how well-meaning our intentions".

It added: "The best way to help our friends and loved ones is to seek the help of experts."

Expert help is available from MUIS on 6359-1199, or the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) on its helpline 1800-7747747 as well as its mobile app.

In a separate statement, Mufti Fatris Bakaram urged the community not to shy away from getting help from those with the religious know-how.

"Difficult as it may be, we must not hesitate to work with the authorities and with the RRG because it is only by doing so that we can save our loved ones," said Dr Fatris, the highest Islamic authority here.

The RRG is a group of local Muslim scholars who help terror detainees clear up their misunderstanding of religious concepts.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim put up both a Facebook post and video, urging the community to inform the religious authorities about individuals who may show extreme behaviour. "It is really very heart- wrenching when you see young individuals who have been radicalised," he said. "They have a bright future ahead of them here in Singapore, and we can help them."

Dr Yaacob, who is also Communications and Information Minister, expressed the hope that the latest detention would not undermine the trust built up among the communities in Singapore over the past 52 years.

He noted how Singapore's Muslim community and its security agencies are working hard to counter the terror threat. For example, since the start of this year, it has been made mandatory for qualified Islamic teachers to be endorsed by the Asatizah Recognition Scheme. He added that the vast majority of the members of the Malay/Muslim community are peace-loving and want to contribute to Singapore.

Echoing these sentiments, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said on Facebook that Singaporeans cannot let this incident divide them. "The Muslim community categorically rejects the views of the detainee, which have no place in either Singapore or in Islam," he said.

Islamophobia, he added, must not be allowed to take root here.

The Association of Muslim Professionals, calling for Singaporeans to stand united, said anyone who comes across material that can potentially damage the country's religious and racial harmony has a duty to alert the authorities.

The Muslim community, noted Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, must also continue to be engaged in the wider society, and integrate with one another.

"This will convince everyone that we want to live in harmony with the people of Singapore," he wrote in Malay in a Facebook post.

Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said in a Facebook post: "We must guard against xenophobic behaviour or any other sentiments that can divide us. We must continue to promote inclusivity... even as we build up our resilience to be prepared, should a terror attack occur."

Detainee exemplifies women vulnerable to lure of extremists
By Lee Seok Hwai, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2017

Extremist Muslim groups have in recent years increasingly tried to recruit women by tapping into a wide range of motivations: promise of romance or adventure, family or peer pressure, and what many say is a warped view of religious duty.

They use social media, slick packaging and "influencers" to entice women. Yet those who join are largely expected to play the traditional roles of wives and mothers.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, the 22-year-old childcare worker who was detained this month by the Singapore authorities, exemplifies the type of women vulnerable to the draw of extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Izzah was attracted by online propaganda and "supported ISIS' use of violence to establish and defend its self-declared 'caliphate'". She also wanted to marry an ISIS supporter and settle down with him and her child in Syria, and to be a "martyr's widow".

Another radicalised Singaporean woman, 35-year-old Dian Faezah Ismail, was placed under a Restriction Order last year. She had helped her husband, waste truck driver Mohamed Omar Mahadi, plan their relocation to Syria, with two children in tow.

In 2014, a female Singaporean, whose identity remains unknown, was said to have joined ISIS in Syria alongside her children.

In Malaysia, several women are known to have joined ISIS to become militants' brides. In one case, a 27-year-old student from Limkokwing University in Selangor married an ISIS fighter via Skype.

More than 1,000 South-east Asian ISIS fighters are believed to be in Iraq and Syria, but how many of them are women is not known.

By dangling the prospect of romance or by radicalising married men, "ISIS has been able to recruit an array of women", Dr Jolene Jerard, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said at a forum on terrorism last month.

That sense of romance is made all the more irresistible for impressionable women by being glorified with martyrdom.

ISIS' online propaganda magazine, Dabiq, has urged "every (foreign) sister who has been afflicted with the loss of her husband on the battlefield" not to become disheartened as she would ultimately be rewarded.

"Be firm, my dear sister, be patient and await your reward," it said.

Indeed, Izzah, the Singaporean detainee, believed she would reap "heavenly rewards" if her would-be husband died in battle for ISIS, said the MHA. She thought she would easily be able to marry another ISIS fighter with her "elevated status" as a "martyr's widow".

Among Western countries, 550 women had left their homelands to join ISIS, according to a 2015 report titled Till Martyrdom Do Us Part by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London.

Like Western men who have joined ISIS, the women felt socially and culturally isolated, and believed Muslims were being persecuted, the study said.

Those targeted were also increasingly younger, middle-class and well educated.

Whatever their motivation, female recruits have to obey rules governing their gender laid down by the ultra-fundamentalist ISIS. Girls may marry as young as nine, while women should be veiled, stay at home and consider motherhood the purpose of their existence.

While many of the recruits have regretted leaving their homes for a life of subjugation and danger, some of them have become ISIS' propaganda and recruitment tools, the British study said.

Aqsa Mahmood, a Scottish woman who reportedly travelled to Syria in 2014 to marry an ISIS fighter, was one such "influencer" through her English-language blog called "Diary of a Muhajirah" (Diary of a Traveller).

Well-known examples of Western recruits include three schoolgirls who travelled together to Syria from Britain in February 2015.

One of them, Kadiza Sultana, was killed in an air strike in Raqqa last year. She was 17, said reports, and desperate to return home.

Act against radicalised individuals, religious teachers tell Muslims

By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2017

The Muslim community needs to make serious efforts to deal with the terrorism scourge, a group of Islamic religious teachers in Singapore said yesterday.

They urged the community to speak out against individuals who have been influenced by radical ideology and who support acts of terror committed worldwide, saying that these people should be given proper counselling as they have been led astray.

"Terrorist ideology should be likened to deviant teachings, and must be reported to the authorities so that its influence can be curbed and the individuals involved rehabilitated,'' they said in a statement in Malay.

The call to action was made by seven ustaz, or Islamic religious leaders. They are: Madrasah Aljunied principal Mahmoud Matlub Sidek; Ustaz Abdul Manaf Rahmat, a mosque religious officer at Mydin Mosque; Maybank syariah consultant Kamal Mokhtar; and Uztaz Khairul Anwar Mohamed Aznan, Fathurrahman M. Dawoed, Muhammad Imran Othman and Zaidi Samsudi.

Their statement comes a day after news broke that Singapore had detained, for the first time, a Singaporean woman under the Internal Security Act for radicalism.

The woman is Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, a contract infant care assistant at a pre-school who was arrested earlier this month. Her detention shows that although the Muslim community here has been warned about terrorist activities abroad and advised to steer clear of such activity, there are still some who have fallen prey, said the statement.

"As part of a multi-racial society in Singapore, we need to be aware that our actions have implications on other communities," it added. "This case is bound to cause unease and anxiety among them. They may become suspicious of Muslims, especially Muslim women who deal directly with the general public."

So, the Muslim community must take decisive steps to ensure this episode is not repeated, it said.

"This has become more urgent in the light of terror attacks happening around the world," the seven ustaz said.

They laid out three steps the community should take.

First, members of the community must let all Singaporeans know that Islam is a religion of peace that does not preach violence.

Second, religious knowledge must come from accurate and credible sources, not dubious sources that may give rise to misinterpretations of the faith.

"We need to stress to the Muslim community that knowledge must come only from accredited religious teachers," said the statement.

Third, the Muslim community must be proactive in reaching out to other communities.

"Not only should we reach out to our neighbours, (but) we must also actively participate in various community events so that people will know who we truly are," said the statement.

"It is imperative that they know we are just like them and have similar aspirations. Like others, we also wish to contribute to nation building and hope for the best for everyone."

Most Singaporeans radicalised by ISIS ‘below 30 years old’

Acting PM Teo highlights vulnerability of youth and the importance of guiding them
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2017

Most Singaporeans who have been radicalised by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group were younger than 30, Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said, as he underscored the vulnerability of young people to extremist ideology shared online.

Mr Teo, the Coordinating Minister for National Security, said yesterday that five of these young people were radicalised when they were still teenagers.

This is why guidance from family, friends and religious leaders in particular is important, he said.

"We need to teach our people, especially the youth, that if they have questions on Islam, they should seek answers from the imams and asatizah who are accredited under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS), and not search on the Internet in a haphazard and unguided way," he added.

So far, 15 people have been detained or given restriction orders, which curtails an individual's movements, under the Internal Security Act ( ISA), Mr Teo said.

He spoke at an iftar, or breaking of fast, organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang.

The session was attended by community and religious leaders from different faiths, as well as Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim and Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam.

Dr Yaacob told reporters that young asatizahs, or religious teachers, can help prevent young people from being radicalised by guiding their peers who are "questioning and trying to understand Islam better".

"There are a lot of young groups out there emerging, led by young asatizahs - they can play an effective role in reaching out to those people who are troubled, and who need some help," he said.

He added that tackling radicalism has to be a joint effort between the community and the authorities.

Yesterday, Mr Teo also reiterated the terror threat facing Singapore is at the highest level since 2001 - the year the Sept 11 attacks happened.

He noted that terror groups would continue to push out extremist propaganda online, even if ISIS is eventually defeated.

He also highlighted the three rings of "trust and confidence" that have kept Singapore safe.

First, the security agencies that work around the clock.

Second, the trust and confidence that Singaporeans have in the Muslim community.

And third, the bonds that stretch across communities of different religions.

Mr Teo highlighted steps that the Muslim community has taken to counter radical ideology, including the ARS, which requires Islamic religious teachers to meet a set of requirements to teach in Singapore.

"All of us can see the significant steps that our Muslim community has taken to counter exclusivism, extremism and radical teachings," said Mr Teo.

His comments come two days after the Government revealed a woman had been detained earlier this month under the ISA for radicalism. Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, a contract infant care assistant at a pre-school, had begun to be radicalised by online propaganda in 2013. Her family found out she was getting radicalised and tried to counsel her, but did not inform the authorities.

Yesterday, Mr Teo again urged family members who feel their loved ones might possibly be radicalised to come forward and seek help early, pointing out that Izzah's radicalisation could have been prevented.

He said in Malay during his speech: "If Izzah had gone to Syria to join ISIS, Izzah's family may have lost Izzah and her daughter forever. Luckily, she was arrested in time and stopped."

RRG co-chair Ali Mohamed also urged parents to be alert if their children are "on the path to radicalism".

"It is our duty to provide advice and guidance to our children and report them to the authorities should they choose to take the path towards violence," he said.


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