Wednesday, 12 February 2020

17-year-old secondary school student detained under Internal Security Act for supporting ISIS

His journey to radicalisation began in 2017 when foreign contact introduced him to pro-ISIS social media groups
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2020

A 17-year-old secondary school boy was detained last month under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

He is the youngest person detained under the ISA to date.

In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said he was first investigated in September 2017 when he was 15, after he posted defaced images of President Halimah Yacob on social media and called on ISIS to behead her.

Madam Halimah was elected that year as president of Singapore, which the student viewed as an "infidel" state.

Commenting on his arrest yesterday, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) categorically debunked the view that Muslims cannot live in a secular country and take up any roles in government or serve as head of state.

"The Singapore Muslim community is a clear example of confident Muslims thriving in our secular and multi-religious context and actively contributing to our public institutions and society as a whole," said Muis.

The boy's journey to radicalisation began in 2017, when he was introduced to pro-ISIS social media groups by a foreign online contact.

Through these groups, he gained access to what he believed was exclusive ISIS content, said MHA.

"In his eyes, ISIS was a powerful group that was fighting for Islam and its use of violence against its opponents was therefore justified."

MHA said that after this came to light in 2017, it tried to steer the boy away from radicalism, but he remained a staunch supporter of ISIS.

A spokesman for MHA told The Straits Times that arrangements were made for the youth to undergo religious counselling, and its officers also reached out to him.

His parents were informed so that they could keep a closer eye on him, she said. "Unfortunately... he persisted with viewing pro-ISIS materials online and hid his continued support for ISIS from those trying to help him."

In its statement, MHA said the student continued to believe in ISIS, even with the demise of the group's so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and was willing to assist ISIS in its online propaganda efforts.

He was also willing to undertake other activities if called upon by ISIS to do so, MHA added. It noted, however, that there were no signs that the student had spread his pro-ISIS views to others around him.

Muis said the boy's case underscored the importance of ensuring that young Muslims in Singapore have credible religious teachers to learn from and also a strong support network of family, teachers and friends they can turn to.

In a Facebook post, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin urged parents to monitor what their children are viewing online as well as their friends.

The MHA spokesman said that in dealing with young people being radicalised, the ministry's key concerns are the security threat they pose, and how to steer them away from radicalism through counselling and monitoring.

In the case of this boy, the intervention failed and the decision was made to detain him because of the seriousness of the threat he posed.

"Other options were considered, including placing him on a Restriction Order, but after a careful and holistic assessment, it was decided that this would not be in the public's interest, or his interest."

The spokesman said the youth will be placed on a holistic rehabilitation programme that comprises religious, psychological and social rehabilitation.

He will be granted family visits and an aftercare officer will be assigned to his family to provide social and financial support.

Arrangements will also be made so he can continue with his studies.

There is no minimum age for a person to be dealt with under the ISA, the spokesman noted, adding that two other 17-year-old youths have been placed on Restriction Orders under the Act for terrorism involvement in recent years.

"The decision to use the ISA against young persons is never taken lightly. This is why, in 2017, other efforts were undertaken to try to steer him away from his radical path, but these were ultimately not successful."

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