Singaporean detained under ISA for taking part in Yemen civil war, working as agent for ‘foreign power’

Singaporean detained under ISA for taking part in Yemen civil war, working as agent for ‘foreign power’

Yemen has been mired in civil war for years, pitting Iran-backed Huthi rebels against a government
Yemen has been mired in civil war for years, pitting Iran-backed Houthi rebels against a government supported by a Saudi-led military coalition AFP/MOHAMMED HUWAIS

SINGAPORE: A 48-year-old Singaporean man has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) since March last year for being “actively” involved in the civil war in Yemen, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said on Wednesday (Dec 9). 

Sheik Heikel Khalid Bafana, who was in Yemen from 2008 to 2019, had volunteered to take up arms and also worked as a paid agent for a “foreign power” by collecting intelligence on Yemen, ISD said.

He was arrested under the ISA after he returned to Singapore on Feb 5 last year.

“Heikel’s case was not disclosed earlier because investigations into his activities in Yemen were complex, and earlier disclosure would have jeopardised ongoing investigations,” said ISD.

READ: 26-year-old Bangladeshi arrested under ISA following investigations into 'terrorism-related activities'

The announcement comes two weeks after authorities said that Ahmad Faysal, a 26-year-old Bangladeshi who worked in Singapore, was arrested under the ISA on Nov 2 for terrorism-related activities.

As part of Singapore’s heightened security posture following terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere, the Ministry of Home Affairs said last month that it started investigations against 37 people for suspected radical inclinations, or for making comments which incited violence or stoked communal unrest.

HEIKEL PAID “SUBSTANTIAL” AMOUNTS AS FOREIGN AGENT

Heikel and his family migrated to Yemen around 2008 where he ran a consultancy that advised foreign companies on security risks and business opportunities, ISD said.

“While there, he assisted one of the factions in the civil war, and volunteered to take up arms and fight alongside this faction,” it added.

“He also acted as a broker between this faction and the foreign power, in an effort to secure military equipment, supplies and funds to conduct military training.”

The civil war is between the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi Arabia-backed Yemeni government. It has killed 100,000 people in what the United Nations described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

READ: Singapore's Home Team agencies on 'heightened alert' after terrorist attacks in Europe

Separately from around 2012 to 2018, Heikel collected intelligence on Yemen for the foreign power, for which he was paid “substantial amounts”, ISD said, adding that his dealings with the foreign power were “clandestine” in nature.

After 2011, as the security situation in Yemen deteriorated and Singaporeans were evacuated, Heikel stayed on, ISD said. 

Heikel had come to the ISD's attention while he was still in Yemen after he made social media posts suggesting that he was involved in the armed conflict there, the agency said in response to queries from CNA.

"For instance, he had posted a photograph of himself in military gear with a submachine gun, as well as other postings suggesting involvement in or support for armed violence," it said.

Heikel was arrested after returning to Singapore with his family in February last year. “His family members have not been implicated in his activities in Yemen,” ISD added.

ISD did not provide a photo of Heikel. 

It said it is publicising the case now to underline Singapore’s “stern stand” against 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, such a person has demonstrated a dangerous tendency to support the use of violence,” it added. 

READ: ISA detainee charged with lying in Singapore passport application

Heikel compounded this by serving the interests of a foreign power for financial gain, ISD said.

“By involving himself in a foreign armed conflict and working as a paid agent of a foreign power, Heikel has acted in a manner prejudicial to Singapore’s security and interests,” it added.

ISD also gave an update on Faysal, the Bangladeshi who was arrested in November, saying that has been issued with a detention order under the ISA to facilitate ongoing investigations into his terrorism-related activities.

RELEASE FROM DETENTION

Three Singaporeans who were detained under the ISA for involvement in terrorism-related activities have also been released and placed on a restriction order (RO), ISD said.

They are 31-year-old Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid who was self-radicalised; former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member Husaini Ismail, 61; and another self-radicalised individual Rosli Hamzah, 54.

“They have shown good progress in their rehabilitation and were assessed to no longer pose a security threat requiring preventive detention,” ISD said.

Individuals on RO cannot travel out of Singapore or change addresses or jobs without approval. They also cannot issue public statements, address public meetings or print, distribute or contribute to any publication without approval.

READ: 17-year-old secondary school student detained under ISA over support of Islamic State

Fadil was previously detained under the ISA from 2010 to 2012 as he intended to engage in armed violence in Afghanistan, ISD said. He was released from detention in 2012 and placed on an RO.

In April 2016, Fadil was detained again as investigations showed he had reverted to the belief that militant jihad was the easiest way to achieve martyrdom, and that he intended to fight alongside ISIS or other militant groups in Syria, ISD said. He was released on an RO in April.

Husaini was detained under the ISA in June 2012 after being deported to Singapore from Indonesia a month earlier, ISD said. Husaini had fled Singapore in the wake of the security operations against the JI network in December 2001.

While on the run, he was involved in the plot to hijack a plane and crash it into Changi Airport in January 2002, ISD said. Husaini was released on an RO in June.

Rosli was detained under the ISA in August 2016 after harbouring intentions to travel to Syria to fight alongside ISIS, the agency said. He was released on an RO in August.

LAPSE OF RESTRICTION ORDERS

Meanwhile, ROs issued against five Singaporeans were allowed to lapse upon expiry as they have shown good progress in their rehabilitation, ISD said.

Mohamed Mohideen Mohamed Jais, 30, had performed armed sentry duties in Yemen while pursuing religious studies there from 2009 to 2011, ISD said. He was issued with an RO in March 2016. This was allowed to lapse in March this year.

A self-radicalised Singaporean who supported ISIS was issued an RO in July 2016, ISD said. He was 17 years old at the time and was not named by ISD. His RO was allowed to lapse in July this year.

Mohamad Reiney Noor Mohd, 30, started supporting ISIS after coming across the militant group’s propaganda online, ISD said. He was issued with an RO in August 2016. It was allowed to lapse in August this year.

Asrul Alias, 37, was also self-radicalised, having actively searched for pro-ISIS materials online and shared them on Facebook and WhatsApp with the intention to spread the group’s ideology, ISD said. He was issued with an RO in August 2016. His RO was allowed to lapse in August this year.

Former JI member Ishak Mohamed Noohu was detained in November 2006 and released on RO in November 2012, ISD said. Like Husaini, Ishak had fled Singapore and was involved in the plot to crash an airplane into Changi Airport. His RO was allowed to lapse in October.

Source: CNA/hz(gs)

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