Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen has echoed a warning by global leaders about the conflict in Iraq and Syria – that citizens who have gone to support the extremist groups in these regions pose “a significant threat” to their own countries.
Dr Ng’s warning is similar to what British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Wednesday.
Mr Hammond said that the involvement of British nationals with extremist groups was one of the reasons that the IS “represents such a direct threat” to the UK’s security.
IS refers to Islamic State, a terrorist group raging war in both Iraq and Syria, and which had murdered American journalist James Foley earlier this week, attracting worldwide condemnation and outrage.
British authorities suspect that the person in the video who carried out the murder of Foley is a British national.
“Many of these people may seek at some point to return to the UK and they would then pose a direct threat to our domestic security,” Mr Hammond said.
The IS campaign included a call to arms for Muslims around the world. Presently, it has attracted a reported 6,000 people from all over the world in July alone who have gone to join the extremist group. (See here.)
On Wednesday, United States president, Barack Obama, issued a statement on the murder of Foley by IS militants.
Mr Obama said the “United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.”
“We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” he said.
“The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their community.”
He called on the governments and peoples across the Middle East to come together in “a common effort to extract this cancer so that it does not spread.”
“There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies,” Mr Obama said. “One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century. Friends and allies around the world, we share a common security and a common set of values that are rooted in the opposite of what we saw yesterday. And we will continue to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility.”
In Singapore, there have been instances of “well-educated people who were ‘self-radicalised’, lending themselves to extreme ideologies and willing to commit extremist acts”, the Straits Times reported.
“So this is no longer fiction,” Dr Ng said. “This is real.”
With the recruitment by IS of thousands of people, this “[increases] the opportunity of radicalising people because of the ground experience they will have had in Iraq and Syria,” Dr Ng explained.
“When they finally return to their home countries, the threat they can pose to their home population, it is a significant threat,” said Dr Ng, echoing what Mr Hammond had said.
In March, the authorities in Singapore disclosed that an Indian national and a Singapore citizen had attempted to “take part in the conflict in Syria”.
The Ministry of Home Affairs eventually deported the Indian national, while the alleged “radicalised” Singaporean’s whereabouts are still unknown.
Dr Ng said “the only way” to prevent or counter home-grown transnational terrorism is to step up the sharing of information and intelligence between countries and agencies.
“In this battle against terrorist elements, information is key and sharing of information is key,” he said.
“The more we know… the safer we can be and better prepared we are.”
On Wednesday, reports quoting a top Malaysian counter-terrorism official said that a “group of radicals planning to attack several targets in Malaysia had their sights set on a wider campaign — the creation of an Islamic Caliphate that includes Singapore.”
The 19 suspected militants arrested from April to June had planned to travel to Syria to learn from the radical Islamic State (IS) group, Mr Ayob Khan Mydin, deputy chief of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division, told AFP. (See TODAY.)