SINGAPORE: Four radicalised Singaporeans have been dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for engaging in overseas armed conflict, or intending to do so, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Mohammad Razif Yahya, 27, and Amiruddin Sawir, 53, were both detained under the ISA in August 2015 for voluntarily taking up arms and participating in the sectarian conflict in Yemen, the MHA said in its press release on Wednesday (Mar 16).
They started religious studies in an institution in Yemen in January 2010 and July 2013, respectively, and volunteered to take up armed sentry duties at the institution against any incursion by the Houthis, the ministry said.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS IN YEMEN
Razif was variously armed with an AK-47 rifle and a Dragunov sniper rifle and had volunteered for sniper training, which he put into practice when fighting the Houthis, MHA stated. As for Amiruddin, he was armed with an AK-47 and was involved in a fire-fight with the Houthis, it added.
"Razif and Amiruddin were prepared to kill and be killed as ‘martyrs’ in the sectarian conflict in Yemen. By taking up arms in Yemen, they have demonstrated a readiness to use violence to pursue their religious cause," MHA said. "As such, they are assessed to pose a security threat to Singapore."
A third man, Mohamed Mohideen Mohamed Jais, 25, had performed armed sentry duties in Yemen during his religious studies there from 2009 to early 2011. "He understood that he had to return fire using the AK-47 assigned to him, with the aim to kill if there was an incursion by the Houthis," said the ministry.
He did not encounter any situation that required him to open fire, it added.
Mohideen has since been placed on a Restriction Order (RO) under the ISA with effect from March 2016, the ministry said.
A person issued with a RO must abide by several conditions and restrictions. For example, he is not permitted to change his residence or employment, or travel out of Singapore, without the prior approval of the ISD Director.
The individual issued with RO also cannot issue public statements, address public meetings or print, distribute, contribute to any publication, hold office in, or be a member of any organisation, association or group without the prior approval of the Director.
23-YEAR-OLD WANTED TO FIGHT WITH MILITANTS AGAINST IS
The fourth man, Wang Yuandongyi, intended to travel to Syria to join a Kurdish militia group that is fighting against the Islamic State. The 23-year-old left Singapore in January this year for a third country, from where he intended to travel to Turkey and on to Syria, the MHA said.
However, someone who became aware of his plans reported him and, on the request of Singapore, Wang was located and turned back to the country, according to the MHA.
"He was arrested under the ISA and placed on an RO with effect from March 2016," the ministry said.
Investigations showed that Wang first learnt about the Kurds through the news in November 2015 and subsequently looked up information online about ISIS' attacks against the Kurds in Syria.
"He began to empathise with the plight of the Kurds and to detest ISIS. At the same time, he was looking to escape from personal setbacks, like his financial liabilities arising from a failed business venture," MHA said.
When he left Singapore with the intention to fight in Syria, he brought with him some Singapore Armed Forces-issued gear such as his uniform and boots, it added.
In response to media queries, MHA said Wang is a naturalised Singapore citizen of PRC origin and had obtained citizenship in 2014. "Wang is not a Muslim. He had arrived in Singapore as a child and was educated here. Wang has completed his National Service. He is the first ethnic Chinese placed under a Restriction Order for intending to undertake violence in overseas armed conflicts," a spokesperson said.
As part of the rehabilitation programme, Wang will be given psychological counselling and he will be closely monitored by the authorities.
Dr Kumar Ramakrishna, Associate Professor and Head of Policy Studies at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said Wang is likely the first known Singaporean, who intended to fight not for, but against IS.
As for Razif and Amiruddin, he saidthe fact that they saw combat action is significant.
“So, they have possibly even spilled Shia blood so when they come back, they have this ideological perspective that's been reinforced by the realities of actual fighting so they may be pretty hardened. So the concern is they may influence people around them."
The professor added: "In addition to being concerned about the appeal of IS extremist ideologies that have to be constantly fought, we must also find ways and means of counselling younger Singaporeans who may be motivated by essentially humanitarian concerns, perhaps, to go to Syria and Iraq to fight against IS on behalf of the suffering population who they feel - as the propaganda online video show - feel have been brutally treated by the IS."
NOT IDEOLOGICALLY-DRIVEN, BUT VIOLENT INTENT REMAINS: MHA ON WANG
A total of 72 people have been detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities since 2002, and about 80 per cent of them have since been released. There are presently 14 people issued with Orders of Detention, one on Suspension Direction and 22 people issued with Restriction Orders, MHA said.
The ministry said 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.
For instance, while Wang's motivation to join the militia and fight against ISIS was not ideologically-driven, the fact remains that he intended to engage in an armed conflict overseas.
"Geography does not mask the fact that such individuals would have demonstrated a dangerous tendency to support the use of violence. Their involvement in overseas conflicts can also jeopardise Singapore’s national interests, including our bilateral relations," the ministry said.
"They are deemed to pose a threat to Singapore’s security, and will be firmly dealt with in accordance with our laws."
The MHA also urged anyone who is aware of someone becoming involved in terrorism-related activities, including planning or taking steps to travel to conflict zones to take part in an armed conflict, or who observes suspicious activities or signs of radicalisation, to inform the Internal Security Department (1800-2626-ISD) or the police (999).
SEEK PROPER GUIDANCE ON ISLAMIC LEARNING: MUIS
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said the arrests illustrate that there are institutions abroad that masquerade as centres of Islamic learning, but are actually involved in armed conflict and militant activities, and propagate extremist ideologies. "These foreign schools prey on the vulnerable, especially those who approach them with the intent of deepening their religious belief," it added.
Deputy director from the Office of the Mufti, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, said: “We strongly urge Muslims in Singapore who wish to study Islam to approach only recognised religious teachers (asatizah) for guidance and advice. For those who wish to study in foreign institutions, please consult MUIS and we will provide guidance and the necessary support on the appropriate overseas institutions for Islamic studies. We would also like to encourage parents and family members to play a more active role in guiding their loved ones to proper sources of Islamic learning."
Dr Nazirudin added that as a community, Singaporeans must continue to be vigilant against extremist elements. "We must continue to uphold Islamic teachings that are relevant to contemporary needs, and which are suited to our way of life in multi-religious Singapore," he stated.