Singaporean teen who planned mosque attacks will get lawyer, attend hearing under ISA: Shanmugam
SINGAPORE: The Singaporean teenager detained under the Internal Security Act for planning to commit terrorist acts at two local mosques will get a lawyer and attend a hearing to set out his position.
“He will get a hearing within the rubric of the Internal Security Act and he would have a lawyer, and his position will be put across. His parents are fully involved,” Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam told reporters on Thursday (Jan 28).
Mr Shanmugam said a judge will “look at it”. "And I, as a minister, will have to look at it too,” he added.
The self-radicalised teenager, a 16-year-old Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, had planned to use a machete to attack Muslims at two mosques in the Woodlands area.
The attacks were planned for Mar 15 this year, the second anniversary of the 2019 attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The teen was influenced by Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant's actions and manifesto, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said on Wednesday.
Mr Shanmugam said on Thursday that the boy’s age was not relevant in considering whether or not he was going to be detained.
“Because I think we agree that he is capable of doing harm, and until he is rehabilitated, if we leave him out, and if he carries out what he intends to do, I think we will all be very sorry," he added.
The minister said the boy’s age will be a factor in deciding how his rehabilitation process should take place.
“I think given his age, there must be considerable hope that he can be rehabilitated,” he said, based on reports he received.
“But I don’t think there is any doubt in ISD’s mind that he ought to be detained for a period.”
The minister also reiterated the reasons why the teen will not be tried in court, pointing out that it will be argued that “he hasn’t done anything”.
"In many countries, that is part of the issue. You got to wait for them to do something, and often, that’s too late, and I think our people support the approach where we intervene very early," said Mr Shanmugam.
“Second, apart from the question of what he has done, you put him up on the stand, he talks about how he was influenced by Tarrant, his manifesto, what he has against Muslims, do you think that is positive for our interracial confidence?
"You will get reactions from the Muslim community. You will get other people from the Christian community who listen to this, and maybe some may think of this boy as being victimised.
“You run the risk of a Christian-Muslim divide, or deepening the divide.”
Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, which was one of the teen’s targets. Also present were Christian and Muslim leaders, who reaffirmed religious solidarity in Singapore.
The minister was “very heartened” that religious groups have come out to reject extremist ideologies and express support for each other after news on Wednesday about the teen’s plans.
“What we have in Singapore is quite unique,” he added. “We take it as a way of life, that there is this spirit of religious harmony, and that is precious and must be protected.”
READ: National Council of Churches urges Christians to be vigilant following arrest of teen who planned to attack mosques
President of the National Council of Churches of Singapore Reverend Keith Lai said he wants to reassure the Muslim community that “we will stand together to fight and defeat hatred and violence”.
“Because whatever has been planned by this young man is contrary to what our Bible teaches about love and acceptance,” he said.
“And so we are here today to reaffirm our commitment to stand together with them, and to work with them to assure them that there is no animosity between Christians and Muslims.”
Mufti Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said religious groups now have to “help this young man and many others like him to heal from this wound of hate and violence”.
“Not to form stereotypes and prejudices, through the frosted blinkers and pixelated screens of hate and violent extremism,” he said.
“We are very thankful to the security agencies for thwarting such attacks before they happen.”
Mr Shanmugam said Singapore is "fortunate that ISD has been very effective".
Since 2015, ISD has arrested 53 people for counterterrorism related reasons, while 37 were detained and 16 were issued restriction orders.
“Over the last 20-odd years, they have prevented attacks on our soil, they have stopped radicalised individuals from going overseas to conflict zones to fight,” the minister said.
"They have disrupted plots by foreigners seeking to carry out attacks, both here and overseas."
When asked if the religious groups should beef up security measures at places of worship, Mr Shanmugam said that “he would be careful about going in that direction”.
"You go to a mosque, you go to a temple, you go to a church, you go to a place of worship, you are approaching with a spiritual mindset," he said.
"If we started turning places of worship into fortresses, how welcoming is that going to be? And is it really going to be effective anyway?
“I think we have to have a sense of balance here. Places of worship are meant to be open, they are meant to be open for people to walk in and feel comfortable.”