Religious groups asked to be more vigilant after teenager planned mosque attacks: Shanmugam
SINGAPORE: Religious organisations in Singapore have been asked to be more vigilant following the case of a 16-year-old boy who had planned to attack two mosques in Singapore, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Wednesday (Jan 27).
“I have asked ISD (Internal Security Department) and MCCY (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) to engage the religious organisations to be more vigilant, across the different religions,” he told reporters.
“Advisories have been issued to religious organisations, strengthened their crisis preparedness to be more alert.”
The self-radicalised teenager, a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, was in December detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after planning to use a machete to attack Muslims at two mosques in the Woodlands area. The attacks were planned for Mar 15 this year, on the anniversary of the 2019 attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.
He was influenced by Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant's actions and manifesto.
“He had also watched Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda videos, and came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers," said ISD.
When it comes to tackling radicalisation, Mr Shanmugam said the Government has been engaging all the religious communities regularly.
“We are constantly in touch, we are talking to them about everything else that’s happening in the world, and how Singapore is precious and how religious and racial harmony here has got to be maintained,” he said.
In a media statement on Wednesday, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said it wishes to remind the public that the case is an isolated incident.
“We are fortunate that our security agencies were able to detect it early,” it said.
“Our religious institutions have also prepared for such scenarios under the SG Secure Framework and the Crisis Preparedness for Religious Organisations (CPRO) programme.”
Nevertheless, MUIS said it was “concerned and saddened” to learn about the case.
“This is a grim reminder of the ever presence of the threat of online radicalisation, and together with social media pervading all of our lives, it brings the danger of extremist ideologies into our homes,” it added.
“We are all especially concerned for our youths.”
YOUNGER PEOPLE ARRESTED UNDER ISA
Mr Shanmugam said it is “worrying” that the ISD is arresting young people in recent years, with seven individuals under the age of 20 detained or issued a restriction order under the ISA since 2015.
The minister said “a lot of effort” is being made to reach out to youths regarding this issue, adding that it is one of the reasons why Singapore sees fewer of such incidents “relative to many other places”.
Culture, Community and Youth Minister Edwin Tong said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that Singapore “cannot allow an isolated case of a youth working alone to sow seeds of suspicion and discord in our society”.
“Instead, this should spur us to work harder to respect and understand one another,” he wrote. “Let us stand strong against hatred and enmity, and continue to support one another, regardless of our different faiths or beliefs.”
Mr Tong urged everyone to “exercise discernment and vigilance when seeking information online and guide your loved ones where you can”.
“Without this, the impressionable amongst us can easily be manipulated by those who seek to divide and destroy our society,” he added.
THE SPREAD OF HATE
Mr Shanmugam gave his thoughts on how hateful ideals have developed and spread globally, highlighting that some terrorists have done “unspeakable things” in the name of Islam when they are contrary to the religion.
“On the other side, you have had hateful manifestos from the right wing,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam pointed to how terrorist events involving white supremacists in Norway and the US influenced the attacker in the New Zealand mosque shootings, before the latter influenced other attacks and finally the case in Singapore.
“I would say the world has come to this and it’s also creeping in into Singapore. We can only say thank goodness, we are not like many other parts of the world,” he said.
“Otherwise, instead of standing before you and saying that we have detained him, I will be saying, ‘I'm very sorry that this has happened. This is another dastardly attack.’ And people will be putting flowers in memory of those who have been senselessly killed.”
When it comes to stopping these attacks, Mr Shanmugam said the police has “considerably enhanced” its counterterrorism response capabilities since the November 2015 attacks in Paris.
“We cannot be everywhere, so the concept of operations has changed,” he said. “It’s the ability to get to wherever the attack is taking place quickly, and a deep understanding of the different kinds of layouts that are likely.”
Mr Shanmugan said the ISD has also been successful in picking out these individuals before attacks take place.
“But in the end, they have to succeed only once,” he added. “ISD has to succeed every single time. So far, everything is peaceful, people carry on with their lives because ISD has been extremely effective.”
Still, Mr Shanmugam said the reality remains that hateful influences can reach Singapore society.
“We will do our best, society does its best, parents do their best,” he said.
“But nevertheless, you must expect that increasingly, because it is so prevalent elsewhere, across religions – not just any specific religion – you must expect those influences to seep in, somewhat. We can just do our best to try and make sure that we’re not overwhelmed.”
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that “terrorism is not tied to any religion but happens when individuals adopt extremist ideologies in the name of their religion”.
“The threats of terrorism remain real and it is in times like these that we as Singaporeans, regardless of race, religion or even age should stand united to defeat terrorist elements that seek to plant distrust, divide and turn us against one another,” he wrote.