Thursday 28 January 2021

16-year-old Singaporean detained under ISA for planning terrorist attacks on two mosques; 20-year-old who planned to kill Jews at a Waterloo Street synagogue also detained

He aimed to kill Muslims here with machete on March 15 anniversary of Christchurch attacks in New Zealand
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2021

A 16-year-old Singaporean student has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after the authorities uncovered his plans to attack two mosques and kill worshippers in Singapore on March 15 - the second anniversary of the Christchurch terror attacks.

A Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, he is the first detainee to be inspired by far-right extremist ideology and the youngest person detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities to date, said the Internal Security Department (ISD) yesterday.

The secondary school student was found to have made detailed plans and preparations to conduct terrorist attacks using a machete at the two mosques, the ISD said.

He had chosen Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands as his targets because they are near his home, it added. He planned to rent a BlueSG car to travel between the two sites and had watched videos on operating an automatic transmission vehicle.

Influenced by the Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant, the youth had mapped out his route, bought a flak jacket, intended to buy a machete on online marketplace Carousell and wanted to live-stream his planned massacre.

"He was self-radicalised, motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence," said ISD, adding that he had also watched the live-streamed video of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and had read the attacker's manifesto. Tarrant, a white supremacist, gunned down 51 people in the attacks on March 15, 2019.

The Singaporean youth also watched Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda videos, and came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers, said ISD.

ISD said it was clear from his plans and preparations that he was influenced by Tarrant's actions and manifesto, such as how he planned to carry out the attacks on the anniversary of the Christchurch attacks, and had intended to modify a tactical vest he bought online such that the attack could be live-streamed from a mobile device.

Mr Shanmugam told reporters: "How do we weed out or find out every single person who wants to do something like this? I have asked ISD and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to engage the religious organisations to be more vigilant across the different religions, and advisories have been issued to religious organisations to strengthen their crisis preparedness to be more alert."

The minister added that the youth will be rehabilitated, instead of treating him as a criminal, charging him and putting him in jail. "So here, with rehabilitation, my hope is that after a number of years, he can be released and carry on with his life."

ISD said its investigation so far indicates that the youth had acted alone. There was also no indication that he had tried to influence anyone with his extreme outlook or involve others in his attack plans.

Religious leaders issued calls for solidarity yesterday.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore said it wanted to assure the Muslim community that it remained committed to defeating hatred and violence. "We will not be deterred from our common goal to build harmony and cohesion in multi-religious Singapore society," it added.

Rise of right-wing extremism in Singapore worrying, says Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam
Issue is part of larger wave sweeping globally and it will be a long battle
By Fabian Koh‍, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2021

The rise of right-wing extremism creeping into Singapore is a worrying development, and is part of a larger wave sweeping across the world, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

He was commenting on the case of a 16-year-old Singaporean student who was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) last month for plotting to attack Muslims at two mosques here on the second anniversary of a terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity was influenced by Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant, and is the first ISA detainee to have been inspired by far-right extremist ideology.

"It was quite chilling," Mr Shanmugam told reporters at the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, noting that the youth had planned the attack expecting that he would be killed by the police while executing his plans. "And he was prepared to die."

"Violent impulses, I've said this many times, are not restricted to any particular racial group or religious group. It can occur amongst anyone. It's really a question of being exposed to hate speech and then being influenced by it."

He said Singapore's strategy has been to engage with community and religious organisations on maintaining religious and racial harmony, as well as use the ISA to pick up radicalised individuals before they can cause any harm.

If the attack had succeeded, it would likely have incited fear and conflict between different racial and religious groups in Singapore, Mr Shanmugam noted.

Making the point that such extremism is not restricted to one particular group, he pointed to terrorists who claim to act in the name of Islam, as well as right-wing extremists with hateful manifestos.

He cited Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011, and American white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine black parishioners in South Carolina four years later.

Both of them influenced Tarrant, who on March 15, 2019, killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques.

"And Tarrant inspired this boy whom we picked up. It is sad, I would say, that it's come to this, the world has come to this. And it's also creeping in into Singapore," said Mr Shanmugam.

He noted that the storming of the United States Capitol in Washington by right-wing protesters on Jan 6 was seen by many in that segment "both as a symbolic victory and a strategic defeat which they need to learn from". This issue is going to be a "long battle" for the world and Singapore, he added.

Mr Shanmugam also flagged another worrying trend - that seven people under the age of 20 have been picked up under the ISA since 2015, after getting radicalised through the Internet. Four have been detained, while three were served with restriction orders.

While the police have considerably enhanced their counter-terrorism response capabilities since the November 2015 attacks in Paris to focus on responding quickly to terror incidents and on areas that are prone to attacks, it will not be easy to prevent attacks like the one the 16-year-old youth had planned every single time, he cautioned.

The minister credited the ISD for being "extremely effective in picking out these people so that the attacks haven't even taken place".

To weed out more of such cases, he said the ISD and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth are engaging religious organisations across the different religions to be more vigilant.

Advisories have also been issued to these groups to strengthen their crisis preparedness.

"We can only say thank goodness we are not like many other parts of the world; otherwise, instead of standing before you and saying that we have detained him (the youth), I will be saying, 'I'm very sorry that this has happened, this is another dastardly attack', and people will be putting flowers in memory of those who had been senselessly killed... It's the state of the world that we are in," he added.

Mr Shanmugam held up the latest case as an example of why Singapore takes a tough stance against hate speech of all forms including songs, saying that it has "real-world consequences" as it leads to the demonisation of other people.

"Our population has confidence that the Government is in the middle, and we protect you, regardless of who you are, whether you are Muslim or Christian," he said.

"You are a human being, and your sexual inclinations don't matter, we protect you, and we make sure that there can be no violence. So that is a guarantee that this Government has always given."

Muslim, Christian leaders condemn plot by Singaporean teen to attack mosques, reaffirm mutual trust
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2021

Christian and Muslim religious leaders here met yesterday to reaffirm the mutual trust and understanding between the two communities and condemn the plot by a Protestant Christian youth to attack Muslims at two mosques.

The meeting was held at Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, one of two sites targeted by the youth, a 16-year-old Singaporean of Indian ethnicity who had been inspired by the 2019 Christchurch shootings.

Leaders from the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) met Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir and Mr Esa Masood, chief executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

Also present were the chairmen of Yusof Ishak Mosque and Assyafaah Mosque, as well as Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, and Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Faishal Ibrahim.

NCCS' president, Reverend Keith Lai, told the media that the Christian community was pained by news of the alarming plot.

"We were in shock and disbelief that this could happen, and especially coming from a 16-year-old," he said, adding that "whatever had been planned by this young man is contrary to what our Bible teaches about love and acceptance".

The teenager, who was a secondary school student when he hatched his plan last year, became the youngest detainee under the Internal Security Act.

Dr Nazirudin said the leaders discussed various steps that could be taken to deepen understanding between the Christian and Muslim communities here, and agreed on the need to guide young people from being influenced by extremist ideologies easily found online.

He added that such ideologies feed on fear, anxiety and misinformation, and prey on the vulnerable and less informed, including young people.

"Our unequivocal message of respect and care for others must reach our young in our communities from the pulpits, in classrooms and in our own homes," he said.

Reverend Lai said the incident was a "wake-up call for us as a community, not just a Christian community but together as a nation".

The onus, he added, is on the community and parents to make sure they understand the emotions and struggles of their children and teenagers, to counter the potentially damaging influence of online radicalisation.

"This is something that we cannot abdicate and pass to government agencies. It is something that... we have to take responsibility for," he added. "And as religious organisations, we play a very important role as well, to make sure we guide them in the right way."

Dr Nazirudin said the Muslim leaders were reassured that the case was an isolated incident.

"As a community that has often needed to explain itself and what Islam truly represents, we deeply empathise with your shock and anguish that someone who professes the Christian faith seeks to do the very thing that would desecrate it," he added.

During the meeting, Christian church leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working with Muslim religious leaders to assure them that there is no animosity between the two communities.

Dr Nazirudin called for Singaporeans to remain united through this problem, saying: "We have witnessed how in these difficult and challenging times in a global pandemic, our common humanity and the sanctity and safety of human lives matter the most. We have put all differences aside to unite and protect one another."

Religious institutions should remain welcoming and open, not turn into 'fortresses': Shanmugam
Instead of just beefing up security measures at these places, everyone must play their part
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2021

Places of worship should not be turned into fortresses but remain welcoming and open, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday, as he called on the wider community to instead counter radical ideologies by educating young people against far-right extremism.

Speaking to the media after a meeting between Christian and Muslim leaders at Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, the minister responded to a suggestion that religious groups here beef up security at locations where worshippers gather.

"You go to a place of worship, you are approaching with a spiritual mindset. You are going there because you want spirituality, or you have problems or in some way you want a conversation with a higher being," said Mr Shanmugam.

"If we started turning places of worship into fortresses, how welcoming is that going to be? And is it really going to be effective anyway? I think we have to have a sense of balance here."

While those in charge of places of worship should be more alert, he said he would be careful about religious groups enhancing security measures.

"Security is everyone's business. Every person has got to look at things - are there bags left somewhere? Is someone behaving in a way that is odd? These are cues that one has got to pick up.

"We try to do that education through SGSecure," said Mr Shanmugam, referring to the national movement to sensitise, train and mobilise Singaporeans to play a part to prevent and deal with a terrorist attack.

Saying Singapore's emergency forces are also ready to respond to threats, he added: "But I think we also need to keep our way of life, and our way of life means religious institutions are welcoming and open."

The minister had attended a meeting yesterday morning between Christian and Muslim religious leaders, following the disclosure of a plot by a Protestant Christian youth to attack Muslims at two mosques here - Yusof Ishak Mosque and Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang.

The 16-year-old Singaporean of Indian ethnicity has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

At the meeting, the religious leaders reaffirmed the mutual trust and understanding between the two religious communities, and condemned the terror plot.

Mr Shanmugam said he was heartened by the strong statements put out by the various religious authorities following news of the youth's detention, adding that Singapore's religious harmony, which is seen as a way of life, is unique and must be protected.

He noted that Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, a Catholic, was the guest of honour at the Thaipusam festival yesterday at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

Asked if the youth's case will be heard in open court, Mr Shanmugam said the 16-year-old will get a hearing within the rubric of the ISA, with access to a lawyer. He added that the youth's parents are also fully involved in the process.

"If you went through the criminal process and the question is 'what has he actually done', then it will be argued that he hasn't done anything. In many countries, that is part of the issue. You've got to wait for them to do something, and often, that's too late.

"I think our people support the approach where we intervene very early," said Mr Shanmugam, who added that the case is not suitable for open trial.

He said letting the youth take the stand in a trial would also give him a platform to talk about his manifesto and what he has against Muslims, which is detrimental for inter-racial confidence here.

"You will get reactions from the Muslim community. You will get other people from the Christian community who listen to this, and maybe some may think of this boy as being victimised.

"You run the risk of a Christian-Muslim divide, or deepening a divide," said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that Singapore takes a different route from many other countries in using the ISA. But its record of racial and religious harmony over the last 50 years is proof that it works. "So, it's not the theory, it's the practice," he said.

Mr Shanmugam said that in the last two decades, the Internal Security Department (ISD) has prevented attacks in Singapore, stopping radicalised individuals from going overseas to conflict zones to fight, and disrupting plots by foreigners, both here and abroad.

He added that since 2015, ISD has picked up 53 individuals under the ISA for terrorism-related conduct, of which 37 were detained and 16 issued with Restriction Orders.

16-year-old detained under ISA for planning mosque attacks to receive religious, psychological counselling while in detention
By Fabian Koh‍, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2021

The 16-year-old student who was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning terrorist attacks on two mosques will receive Christian religious counselling to correct the radical ideology he has imbibed.

The Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity will also go for psychological counselling to address his propensity for violence and vulnerability to radical influences, said the Internal Security Department (ISD) yesterday.

He will be granted family visits, and an aftercare officer will be assigned to his family to provide social and financial help if needed, the ISD added.

Arrangements have also been made for him to continue his studies, which include preparing him for national examinations, while he is in detention, said ISD

A mentor will also be assigned to the youth - the first ISA detainee inspired by far-right extremist ideology - to guide him towards pro-social behaviours.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore's approach of providing religious counselling to radicalised youth is better for their rehabilitation than charging and imprisoning them.

The 16-year-old youth is the youngest person to date to be dealt with under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.

"There's a reasonable expectation, that he, like many of the other boys, would eventually understand what their religion is about, and can actually get rehabilitated," Mr Shanmugam told reporters.

Legally, there is no minimum age for a person to be dealt with under the ISA. Due to the youth's age, special safeguards were taken during the investigations and detention, said the ISD. For example, his mother was present during the interview prior to his arrest.

Family visits were also allowed for him during the 30-day investigation period, although such visits are typically not allowed in the first 30 days.

Mr Shanmugam noted that Singapore adopts a consistent approach to rehabilitation, regardless of an individual's race or religion.

He cited the example of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, which was set up after the 9/11 terror attacks, to explain how the counselling takes place. The group, formed by Islamic scholars and teachers, receives some administrative support from the Government but operates independently.

It counsels the detainees and explains to them what the religion is really about and where they have gone wrong in their understanding of their religion, he added.

Some detainees were released after two years, he said, noting that rehabilitation will take longer for those who are fixed in their views and continue to believe in violence.

Flagging how seven people under the age of 20 have been picked by the ISA since 2015, Mr Shanmugam said: "They accessed the Internet, they get self-radicalised."

He added that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth are aware of this trend. The ministries are putting in a lot of effort to address the issue, which is why there are fewer such cases here compared with other places.

But he also sounded a word of caution: "There is this tide that's coming in. I want to be realistic about it. We will do our best, society does its best, parents do their best.

"But, nevertheless, you must expect that increasingly, because it is so prevalent elsewhere, across religions - not just any specific religion - you must expect those influences to seep in, somewhat. We can just do our best to try and make sure that we're not overwhelmed."

Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people in Christchurch mosque attacks
The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2021

Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people and injured 40 after he opened fire at worshippers at two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand on March 15, 2019.

The white supremacist, then 28 years old, stormed the Al Noor mosque armed with semi-automatic guns and shot at Muslims gathered there for Friday prayers, killing 44.

This was filmed from a head-mounted camera and streamed on Facebook as he headed to Linwood Islamic Centre about 5km away and killed another seven people.

Tarrant, born in New South Wales to a father who was a garbage collector and a mother who was a teacher, had moved to New Zealand in 2017 and started planning attacks against the Muslim community.

In his 74-page manifesto titled The Great Replacement which he published before the attack, he wrote that he wanted to ensure a future for white people, and described the immigration of non-European people to Western countries as "white genocide", among other things.

Tarrant described himself as "a regular white man, from a regular family" and said he did not hate foreigners or Muslims who lived in their "homelands".

But he said immigrants were invaders who colonised other people's lands.

He was sentenced to life in jail without parole last August - the first terrorism conviction in New Zealand's history.

The New Zealand judge who sentenced him had said the sentence was not enough punishment for the "wicked" crimes.

He said Tarrant had shown no remorse and that no matter how long he spent in prison, it would not be long enough to atone for his crimes.

*  20-year-old Singaporean youth detained under ISA for planning knife attack on Jews leaving synagogue
He is the first self-radicalised ISA case driven primarily by Israel-Palestine issue
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 11 Mar 2021

A 20-year-old Singaporean who had planned to use a knife to attack and kill Jews here, and to take up arms abroad, has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Amirull Ali, who was in full-time national service as an administrative support assistant in the Singapore Armed Forces when arrested last month, planned to target three Jewish men after their Saturday prayers at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Waterloo Street.

The Internal Security Department (ISD) said yesterday that Amirull, who was enraged by the Israel-Palestine conflict, assumed the men would have done national service in Israel and had carried out atrocities against Palestinians.

But he shelved his plans twice, believing that he would not attain "martyrdom" if arrested.

Instead, he made plans to travel to Gaza to join the military wing of the territory's ruling faction Hamas in its fight against Israel.

This is the second recent case of a thwarted terror attack on a place of worship.

Last December, a 16-year-old self-radicalised Singaporean student planning to attack two mosques in Sembawang and Woodlands and kill Muslims there was detained under the ISA.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday that security at places of worship may have to be reviewed in the light of increased risks, but they cannot be turned into fortresses.

He added that a large part of the local Jewish community are in fact Singaporeans who would have served NS here.

Amirull is the first self-radicalised ISA case to be driven primarily by the Israel-Palestine conflict, said Mr Shanmugam. He was detained not because he sympathised with the Palestinian cause, but because he wanted to kill innocent people here.

"It's perfectly okay to support the Palestinian cause, but it's not okay to go around killing people," he said.

Amirull, who is Muslim, developed an interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict in 2014, after viewing a video of Palestinian civilians being bombed by Israeli fighter jets.

In 2015, he began supporting Hamas' military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB), after reading a book glorifying its exploits. Three years later, he discussed his plans to join AQB with a foreign contact, who encouraged him and told him he would be a martyr if he died fighting on the battlefield.

From mid-2018, he researched travel routes to Gaza and planned to join AQB after his full-time NS.

ISD's investigations found he had acted alone. His immediate family and others in his social circles were not aware of his plans.

He reached his decision to attack Jews here in July 2019, after watching a CNA documentary on the Jewish community here. He became "enraged" that they were thriving peacefully in Singapore, while Palestinians were suffering overseas.

Amirull decided to conduct his attack using a Smith & Wesson knife he had bought in 2016 for scouting activities. He researched the best place to stab his victims to inflict a quick death, and made two reconnaissance trips to the 143-year-old synagogue between August and October 2019.

He put his plans on hold, but revisited them last December after watching a YouTube video on the killing of an autistic Palestinian man by Israeli forces.

Amirull planned to mount his attack on Christmas Day, but shelved the plan as he was again concerned about not attaining martyrdom.

Early this year, the Ministry of Defence alerted the ISD that he could have been radicalised.

Yesterday, Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore chief executive Esa Masood visited the synagogue and met Chief Rabbi Mordechai Abergel and Jewish leaders to show solidarity with the Jewish community and reaffirm longstanding bonds of friendship.

"Our commonalities are much stronger than any differences," said the Mufti, adding that the youth's actions dishonour and desecrate the very faith he claimed to defend.

Rabbi Abergel said they were grateful an attack was averted. "We are resolute that the isolated incident would not colour the very strong relationship we have with our Muslim friends in Singapore."


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