Islamic State-linked plots in region fell in 2018, but terrorism threat to Singapore remains high: MHA

Islamic State-linked plots in region fell in 2018, but terrorism threat to Singapore remains high: MHA

The most pressing terrorism threat to Singapore continues to come from Islamic State, even though the number of plots directed by the militant group fell in the region in 2018. This is according to the Ministry of Home Affairs' latest terrorism threat assessment report which was released on Tuesday (Jan 22). Elizabeth Neo reports.

SINGAPORE: The most pressing terrorism threat to Singapore continues to come from Islamic State, even though the number of plots directed by the militant group fell in the region in 2018.

This is according to the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) latest terrorism threat assessment report which was released on Tuesday (Jan 22).

It warned that other groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda (AQ) are regrouping.

“In Southeast Asia, there is the possibility that JI, which is aligned with AQ, may resume planning attacks,” said MHA.

The ministry added that while there is "no credible intelligence" of a terror attack being planned against Singapore, the possibility cannot be ruled out. “The terrorism threat to Singapore remains high,” said MHA.

READ: Commentary: Radicalisation not a threat that can be flushed out

THREAT FROM HOME-GROWN, SELF-RADICALISED INDIVIDUALS

MHA noted that even though Islamic State has suffered heavy territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, its virulent ideology persists online and continues to attract supporters in Singapore.

In the past two years, eight self-radicalised individuals - including two women and one youth - were dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA), said MHA, bringing the total number of Singaporeans dealt with under this law to 22 since 2015.

In comparison, between 2007 and 2014, there were 11 such radicalised Singaporeans dealt with under the ISA.

However, not all eight cases in the past two years were related to Islamic State, said MHA. Three of them were "influenced by other terrorist rhetoric" and wanted to participate in armed violence in conflict zones in other parts of the world.

In addition, MHA said it continued to detect radicalisation among foreigners living and working in Singapore.

Since 2015, 14 Indonesian domestic workers have been repatriated after they were found to have been radicalised.

Last year, three Malaysian work permit holders were arrested for their suspected involvement in terrorism-related activities. All three were repatriated to Malaysia.

READ: Self-radicalised Malaysian man arrested under ISA, repatriated from Singapore: MHA

None of the foreigners investigated had any plans to carry out attacks in Singapore, said MHA.

SINGAPOREAN MILITANT MEGAT SHAHDAN BELIEVED KILLED

A Singaporean militant who was featured in two Islamic State propaganda videos released in 2017 is believed to be dead, said MHA. 

Megat Shahdan Abdul Samad shot into the spotlight after he was seen in one of the videos, along with two other Southeast Asian militants, executing three “agents of the crusader coalition”.

Islamic State fighter from Singapore video screengrab
Screengrab from an Islamic State video showing a Singaporean. (Image: Facebook)

In the other video, Megat Shahdan, who left Singapore in 2014 to work in the Middle East, was seen loading artillery shells onto a military truck and calling for people to join Islamic State.

READ: MUIS condemns video of Singaporean Islamic State fighter executing man

"Based on available information, Megat Shahdan is believed to have been killed," said MHA on Tuesday.

THREAT FROM OTHER EXTREMIST GROUPS

The threat of Islamic State-inspired attacks persists, as the group’s sympathisers continue to be active, said MHA. 

The ministry pointed to Islamic State-linked group Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) in Indonesia, which was responsible for coordinated bombings in Surabaya in May last year. The bombings, which killed 28 people (including the perpetrators), are the deadliest Islamic State-linked attacks in Indonesia to date.

JAD was disbanded by a court in Indonesia last July for “conducting terrorism” and affiliating itself with Islamic State.

READ: Indonesian court disbands Islamic State-linked group for 'terrorism'

Islamic State continues to portray Southeast Asia as part of its "global caliphate" and has started to refer to its "East Asia" division in its propaganda, which could attract foreign pro-Islamic State militants to travel to the region, said MHA.

“ISIS’ persistent interest in the region raises the threat to Singapore,” MHA added, referring to Islamic State which is also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

"Singaporeans may also be radicalised by ISIS’ propaganda and take up arms for ISIS."

In addition, there are signs that other extremist groups including Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah have been regrouping and may launch large-scale attacks again, said MHA.

“The international focus on countering ISIS has provided AQ with the space to rebuild its capabilities,” said the ministry. 

“JI members have been joining pro-AQ groups in Syria to acquire combat skills and experience. JI continues to attract supporters in the region.”

MAJORITY OF SINGAPOREANS DON'T SEE TERROR THREAT AS IMMINENT

While authorities have put measures in place to enhance Singapore's counter-terrorism abilities, MHA said that it is important for Singaporeans not to become complacent.

A survey conducted by the ministry in June and July last year found that close to 60 per cent of respondents recognised that Singapore was a target for terror attacks.

However, only around 20 per cent felt that a threat was imminent, that an attack might occur in Singapore within the next five years.

The survey, which was conducted via a series of face-to-face interviews, involved 2,010 Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 15 years and above, and was representative of the national population.

Source: CNA/nc(gs)

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