SINGAPORE: A full-time national serviceman (NSF) was arrested for planning to carry out a knife attack against Jews at a synagogue at Waterloo Street and was subsequently detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Singaporean Amirull Ali, 20, had also made plans to travel to Gaza, Palestine to join the military wing of HAMAS in its fight against Israel, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said in a news release on Wednesday (Mar 10).
Amirull was self-radicalised with a deep hatred for Israel after being convinced that Palestinians were being oppressed in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the ISD said.
He was arrested on Feb 5 while he was an NSF with the Singapore Armed Forces. A detention order under the ISA was issued against him on Mar 5.
This is the second reported case this year involving a young person held under the ISA. In January, it was revealed that a 16-year-old student had been detained for planning to attack two mosques in Woodlands.
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Amirull posed an “imminent security threat to Singapore”, said the ISD.
He had planned to attack the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on a Saturday after the Jewish congregational prayers, with a goal to kill three Jewish men, the ISD said. He later considered carrying out the attack on Dec 25 last year.
“He had targeted the males on the assumption that they would have served national service in Israel and hence carried out alleged atrocities against the Palestinians,” ISD said.
After deciding to use a knife for the attack, Amirull downloaded an image of the human vascular system to study how he can inflict “a quick death from massive bleeding”, said ISD, adding that he made a replica knife to practise stabbing motions and grip techniques at home.
Between August and early October 2019, he made at least two reconnaissance trips to the synagogue and identified a spot to ambush his victims as they exit the place of worship.
Amirull eventually shelved his attack plans as he was concerned about not dying as a martyr if he was arrested and sentenced to death, ISD said.
“The Ministry of Defence had alerted ISD that Amirull could have been radicalised by extremist ideologies,” the agency said. “ISD’s subsequent investigations confirmed that he was self-radicalised.”
Amirull’s interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict started sometime in 2014 after watching a video that showed Palestinian civilians being bombed by Israeli fighter jets, ISD said.
“His subsequent online research into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict convinced him that Israel was oppressing Palestinians and also deepened his hatred for Israel,” it added.
Amirull’s support for the HAMAS military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB), began in 2015 after he read a book that glorified the group’s fight for Palestinian rights.
In 2018, Amirull discussed with a foreign contact his intention to travel to Palestine and join AQB. The contact encouraged him to do so, telling him that he would become a martyr if he died fighting the “enemies of Islam on the battlefield”, ISD said.
The foreign contact was a "casual acquaintance" of Amirull and is currently not in Singapore, said ISD. "Apart from Amirull, he is not known to have influenced any other individuals in Singapore with his radical views," it added.
Between mid-2018 and 2020, Amirull prepared to travel to Gaza and take up arms alongside AQB.
He researched travel routes, intending to fly to Cairo before reaching Gaza, and practised how to handle an assault rifle using a self-made AK-47 replica.
“He was focused on the AK-47 as he believed that he would be issued one by AQB based on what he had read about the group,” ISD said.
Amirull planned to make the journey after November this year, after completing his full-time National Service and saving enough money by working as a chef.
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SYNAGOGUE ATTACK PLAN
In July 2019, Amirull watched a CNA documentary on the Jewish community in Singapore and was enraged that Jews here were “thriving peacefully” while Palestinians were “suffering overseas”, ISD said.
This was when he decided to attack Jews at the synagogue, ISD said.
Knowing that it would be difficult to buy a firearm in Singapore, Amirull decided to use a Smith and Wesson knife he had originally bought in 2016 for scouting activities.
“To prepare himself for the attack, he downloaded an image of the human vascular system which he used to identify the mid-section as the best place to stab his intended victims to inflict a quick death from massive bleeding,” ISD said.
He also made a replica PVC knife to practise handling it at home and avoid damaging the actual knife or injuring himself, ISD said.
From his recce trips to the synagogue, Amirull identified a spot along its exterior wall to ambush his potential victims. He was careful not to take pictures during these trips to avoid attracting attention, and downloaded an image for reference instead, ISD said.
When carrying out the attack, he intended to conceal his face with a white keffiyeh, or traditional Arabian headdress, and would return home afterwards to post a manifesto online.
“The aim of the manifesto was to incite all oppressed people to mount attacks against tyrannical regimes using ‘any means necessary’, including ‘assasinat(ion)’ and ‘vigilante justice’,” ISD said.
In October 2019, Amirull had second thoughts about his attack plan after he was concerned about not attaining martyrdom should he be arrested and sentenced to death.
“In his mind, martyrdom could only be achieved by fighting in an actual battlefield in Gaza,” ISD said.
Nevertheless, Amirull revisited his plan in December last year when he became enraged by an online video on the killing of an unarmed and autistic Palestinian man by Israeli forces, ISD said.
“He considered mounting the attack on Christmas Day (Dec 25, 2020), and planned to wear a black ski mask instead of the white keffiyeh,” ISD said.
Amirull had bought the ski mask in March last year with the intention of wearing it when he joined AQB in Gaza, as he had seen the group’s fighters wearing similar masks.
“However, he eventually shelved his attack plans, as he remained concerned about not attaining martyrdom,” ISD added.
ISD’S INVESTIGATIONS SO FAR
ISD said its investigations so far indicate that Amirull had acted alone, with no sign of him trying to influence anyone with his radical outlook or involve others in his attack plans.
“His immediate family and others in his social circles were not aware of his attack plans,” it added.
ISD said it will take firm action against any individual in Singapore who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise such violence or where it takes place.
“In Amirull’s case, he wanted to engage in violence both at home and abroad. He made detailed plans and preparations to kill Jews in Singapore, and was held back only because he was uncertain if he would achieve martyrdom from doing so,” ISD said.
“If Amirull had remained undetected, he might have eventually carried out his attack plans in Singapore or travelled abroad to undertake armed violence.”
ISD said it is important for the public to remain vigilant to signs of radicalisation in the community, so it can “intervene early to avert a tragedy”.
These signs include avid consumption of radical materials, expressions of an “us versus them” mentality, or interest in travelling overseas to participate in armed conflict.
“Anyone who knows or suspects that a person has been radicalised should promptly contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473,” it stated.