SINGAPORE: A Singaporean man was jailed for three years and 10 months on Thursday (Sep 9) after giving money to a Malaysian man who travelled to Syria to join the terrorist group Islamic State.
Mohamed Kazali Salleh, 51, provided about S$1,000 to Wan Mohd Aquil Wan Zainal Abidin, also known as “Akel”, a known Islamic State fighter, said court documents.
On Thursday, Kazali pleaded guilty to two charges under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. Another charge under the same act was taken into consideration for sentences.
This is the first prosecution in Singapore for financing the travel of an individual to a foreign country to train to become a terrorist.
At the time of the offences, Kazali was a businessman operating out of Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The court heard that Kazali befriended Akel in Kuala Lumpur in 2009.
During the trip, Akel told Kazali about his religious views, and the pair kept in contact after this encounter, court documents said.
From 2010 to 2013, Kazali met Akel “many times”, and they attended religious sermons and political rallies in Malaysia together, the court heard.
On these occasions, Akel shared with Kazali his extremist ideology. This included Akel's "strong interest" in becoming a fighter in a "Muslim army", said court documents.
"The accused agreed and support Akel's extremist ideology," stated court documents.
TRAVEL TO SYRIA
In mid-2013, Akel told Kazali that he intended to travel to Syria for this purpose, and asked Kazali for money for a plane ticket to Turkey, from where he would travel to Syria.
Later that year, Kazali took Akel to a travel agency and passed him RM 1,000 (about S$386 at the time) to purchase the ticket to Turkey.
In January 2014, Akel contacted Kazali via WhatsApp asking for more money for his travel to Syria. Kazali then got his daughter to remit US$351.75 (about S$450 at the time) via Western Union to Akel's contact in Turkey. Kazali told his daughter the money was to purchase carpets.
Akel joined the Islamic State in 2014, the court heard. He took on a leadership role within the organisation three years later.
“Investigations reveal that he was the most senior Malaysian ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) fighter in Syria, and actively recruited Malaysians to fight for ISIS in Syria,” according to court documents.
Akel was also identified by the Malaysian authorities to be responsible for two Islamic State-linked attack plots in Malaysia in 2019.
These plots involved instructing two Malaysian supporters of the Islamic State to mount attacks on places of worship and police stations in Malaysia in early 2019. The plots were foiled.
Akel was killed by a Russian airstrike in Syria in 2019, the court heard.
Kazali was arrested by the Malaysian Special Branch on Dec 19, 2018 for his terrorism-related activities.
He was deported to Singapore and arrested by the Internal Security Department (ISD) on Jan 7, 2019. The same month, he was issued with an order of detention under the Internal Security Act for his activities in support of the Islamic State.
ISD referred the matter to the Commercial Affairs Department, after which investigations revealed that Kazali provided about S$1,026 to a known terrorist over three occasions.
On Thursday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Edwin Soh asked for Kazali to be jailed for 46 months.
He said Kazali had carried out the offences in a "deliberate fashion" and that his actions would "engender public disquiet".
Kazali was “fully aware” that the money would be used for a “nefarious purpose”, Mr Soh said.
He added that it was with Kazali’s money that Akel managed to arrive in Syria, and subsequently rose to become the most senior Malaysian fighter in the Islamic State. Kazali was “key” in aiding the rise of the “notorious terrorist”, Mr Soh said.
Kazali’s lawyer Noor Mohamed Marican said that his client was “grateful that he has been stopped in his tracks as a result of his detention”.
“He realised after the arrest that he was not cautious enough when Akel approached him, and that’s how it all started,” Mr Marican said.
Kazali felt he was “brainwashed”, but that it was his fault for “not being alert”, the defence lawyer said.
His client now “condemns” the Islamic State, Mr Marican said.
Kazali gave his “sincere undertaking” that he will not maintain any contact with any person directly or indirectly participating in terrorism, Mr Marican said. Since his detention, Kazali felt that he has been fully rehabilitated, the lawyer added.
Mr Marican also noted that Kazali’s wife and daughter and other family members were in court on Thursday to “give him assurance”.
In sentencing Kazali, District Judge Jasvender Kaur said she noted the nature of the organisation - "one of the largest and most dangerous terrorist organisations" - and the role that Akel played in the organisation.