MOE teacher becomes first public servant in Singapore to be arrested under ISA for terrorism offences
Mohamed Khairul Riduan Mohamed Sarip, 38, planned to commit armed violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
SINGAPORE: A 38-year-old teacher with the Ministry of Education (MOE) who developed an interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict has been arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA), after he made plans to travel to Palestine to carry out armed violence.
Investigations so far have shown that Mohamed Khairul Riduan Mohamed Sarip acted alone, and there are no indications of him intending to carry out attacks in Singapore, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said in a news release on Wednesday (Jan 11).
Khairul is the second Singaporean to be detained under the ISA for wanting to carry out armed violence because he was affected by the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The first individual, Amirull Ali, 20, was arrested in February 2021 for planning to carry out a knife attack against Jews at a synagogue at Waterloo Street.
Khairul was ready to travel to the city of Gaza in Palestine under the guise of humanitarian aid to join HAMAS and its military wing in its fight against Israel, ISD added.
He was arrested last October before being issued a detention order under the ISA with effect from Nov 30 last year.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said Khairul’s actions were “very serious” and that as far as the authorities know, there is no evidence that he tried to influence his students.
Mr Shanmugam added that Khairul is the first teacher and public servant to be detained for terrorism-related offences.
Apart from Khairul’s support for armed violence, he holds segregationist and hard-line religious beliefs, ISD said.
He unsuccessfully tried to influence his family members and children to hold such views, such as by sharing videos of lectures by radical foreign preacher Zakir Naik, who once stated that Muslims should not wish Christians “Merry Christmas”. Khairul also banned his children from celebrating birthdays.
CONSIDERED TRAVELLING TO GAZA SEVERAL TIMES
ISD said that Khairul’s interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict began in 2007, after he watched Facebook videos on purported Israeli acts of aggression against Palestinians including women and children.
“He developed a strong desire to defend and support the Muslims in Gaza out of deep sympathy for them.
"His subsequent online research into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entrenched his belief that the Israelis, particularly the Israel Defence Forces, were oppressing the Palestinians,” ISD added.
Khairul also viewed videos by Naik and another radical foreign preacher, Ahmed Deedat. These videos discussed the concept of armed jihad in defence of Islam, and further entrenched Khairul’s belief in the need to engage in armed defence of the Palestinians.
Naik has been barred from entering Singapore since 2014 for his segregationist and extremist teachings.
Khairul then first considered travelling to Gaza in 2012 after coming across a poster on Facebook titled Panggilan Jihad! (Call to Jihad!), which called for volunteers for a humanitarian mission to Gaza.
The poster also indicated that HAMAS, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, and its military wing Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB) were waiting for these volunteers.
Khairul did not travel to Gaza that year but felt compelled to do so whenever the conflict escalated, such as in 2014 and 2021, ISD said.
He did not follow through on these occasions either because of travel restrictions. In 2014, an escalation in the conflict led Israel to close its borders to Gaza, while COVID-19 restrictions were in effect in 2021.
ISD added: “Nonetheless, Khairul continues to harbour hopes of travelling to Gaza, and admitted that he would be motivated to act should the situation deteriorate further.”
WAS CERTAIN HE WOULD BECOME MARTYR
Khairul aimed to establish contact with HAMAS and AQB upon his arrival in Gaza, ISD said.
He researched travel routes and flights to Gaza, and sought the advice of foreign individuals who were either based in or intended to travel to Gaza. To avoid security scrutiny, Khairul planned to travel there under the guise of providing humanitarian aid.
He conducted extensive research, such as looking at material on tactics and operations, into HAMAS and AQB. He believed they were the legitimate defenders of the Palestinians and that their acts of violence against the Israel Defence Forces were justified in Islam.
ISD said: “He was willing to abide by any instructions given by HAMAS, including armed combat, kidnapping, and even executing Prisoners of War. He was confident of applying the weapons-handling skills and fieldcraft acquired during his National Service to engage in armed combat.”
He served full-time National Service from 2004 to 2006, before being placed on MINDEF Reserve in 2021 when he completed his reservist cycles.
ISD said that Khairul was also certain he would achieve martyrdom if he were to die while performing armed jihad, and also tried to learn Arabic to facilitate communication with HAMAS and AQB soldiers when in Gaza.
He was willing to provide medical aid to HAMAS and AQB soldiers as well by using basic first-aid skills he had acquired.
Additionally, Khairul thought about being a spokesperson and international recruiter for HAMAS, said ISD.
He was prepared to facilitate the travel of anyone interested in joining the armed conflict, believing it was his religious obligation to “spread the truth” about the conflict, and intended to report on the situation in Gaza if he managed to travel there.
ISD added that Khairul was convinced that providing first-hand updates of the conflict on social media would increase the credibility of his postings and encourage others to join HAMAS.
‘POSES IMMINENT THREAT’
ISD noted that Khairul “poses an imminent threat” due to his deeply entrenched radical beliefs and support for armed violence.
Investigations showed no signs that he tried to involve others in his plans to travel to Gaza to carry out armed violence.
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.
“This is particularly so if the person involved is a public servant,” ISD added.
“In Khairul’s case, he was convinced that the use of violence against the Israel Defence Forces and ‘oppressors’ of Muslims is justified, and was prepared to participate in armed combat against them alongside HAMAS and AQB, and to die as a martyr if necessary.
“While his previous attempts did not materialise due to circumstances beyond his control, Khairul remains committed to making his way to Gaza should there be another escalation in the conflict there.”
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, expressing support for terrorist or militant groups, 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.
Mr Shanmugam told reporters on Wednesday that Singaporeans who want to support any cause, including the Israel-Palestine conflict, should partner legitimate organisations to do so.
In response to a question about what kind of background checks are conducted on Government employees, Mr Shanmugam said the checks are “fairly thorough”.
“If he had any of these tendencies at that point in time, and we had known, obviously he would not have been employed and the checks are designed to uncover these sort of things. But if people keep things in their mind and hide it, sometimes it may not be possible.”
He added that Khairul developed these tendencies after leaving the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. A LinkedIn page under his name states that he worked at ICA from October 2006 to December 2008.
Mr Shanmugam added: “We've made clear our policy - that you think of going abroad to fight for any cause, we will arrest you.
“We have a zero tolerance approach. We have arrested others who have similarly thought of going to fight. We don’t, like some other countries, wait until you actually take steps to go ... We take steps when you start planning.”
In response to media queries, a Ministry of Education spokesperson said that Khairul has not been teaching any classes since October 2022.
Noting that ISD’s investigations showed that he had acted alone and there was no sign of him trying to involve others, the spokesperson said: "This case reflects the ever-present dangers of radicalisation, including online radicalisation, which all of us must remain vigilant against.
"MOE regards this case very seriously and will continue to work closely with ISD and the community to safeguard our schools and students against such threats."