Malaysian news portal, The Star, has reported that a Malaysian-born man has brought his Singaporean wife and two teenage children to join in the jihadist fight in Syria.
The 37-year old Penang-born man is reported to have taken his family to the Middle East conflict area in November, where they joined up with the militant Jabhat Al-Nusra group.
The man’s 14-year old son has joined the Islamic State (IS) which is waging a battle in Iraq and Syria to establish a caliphate in the region. The daughter, 18, is reported to be teaching the fighters the English language in Syria.
The 47-year old woman is believed to be engaged as a cook in Syria but all the family members are said to be in different parts of the country.
According to a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) spokesman, the Singaporean woman “was not known to be radical when she lived in Singapore.”
“She left Singapore several years ago,” he added.
It is also believed that the woman’s former husband has something to do with the family moving to the Middle East to participate in the conflict.
The MHA has also confirmed that the family was the same one which Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had mentioned in Parliament in July.
Mr Teo, who is also the Minister of Home Affairs, was asked by Member of Parliament Irene Ng about the government’s position on those who have travelled to join in the conflict supporting IS and whether the Government shares the concerns expressed by Britain, France and Australia that these militants will pose a security threat to their home countries upon their return.
Ms Ng also asked what measures are being taken to counter this security threat given that terrorist groups such as IS are using social media to recruit militants in various parts of the world to their cause.
“The Government knows of a handful of Singaporeans who have gone to Syria to take part in the conflict,” DPM Teo said.
Mr Teo then named several persons whom the government says has travelled to the Middle East.
“One of them is Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali (Haja), a naturalised Singapore citizen of India origin. He brought his wife and three children then aged between two and 11 with him,” Mr Teo revealed.
“Another female Singaporean is believed to have gone to Syria with her foreign husband and two teenage children. The whole family is taking part in the conflict in various ways, either fighting in the terrorist groups, or providing aid and support to the fighters.”
Mr Teo said several Singaporeans had intended to travel to Syria or other conflict zones to engage in the jihadist violence there, but were detected before they could proceed with their plans.
“One was Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader (Basheer), the self-radicalised Singaporean lawyer who was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) from 2007 to 2010. He was re-detained in October 2012 when he was found to have been looking for ways to travel to places like Syria to engage in armed jihad.”
There was also Zakaria bin Rosdan, who tried to establish contact with foreign militant groups online in order to join them and engage in the violence in Syria, Mr Teo told Parliament.
“A third Singaporean, Khairul Sofri bin Osman, was interested to carry out militant jihad overseas in places like Syria, and had also abetted Zakaria in his plans. Both Zakaria and Khairul were issued with Restriction Orders (RO) under the ISA in December 2013.”
Mr Teo said there were also others who have expressed interest to go to Syria to join in the fighting, and “are presently under investigation.”
“We have established that they were radicalised by videos, articles and social media postings online. They subscribed to the sectarian-religious or ideological rhetoric that calls for engaging in militant jihad in Syria.”
Mr Teo said the presence of former foreign fighters in our region – whether they originate from Southeast Asia or elsewhere -- is a security threat to Singapore.
“This threat is magnified if these returnee fighters are Singaporeans,” Mr Teo said. “Indeed, any Singaporean who assists violent organisations like the Al-Nusra Front, IS or any other violent group, have demonstrated a dangerous tendency to support, or resort to, violence to pursue a political or ideological cause. They would thus pose a real threat to Singapore’s national security.”
Mr Teo said there were fundamentally two ways which the government hopes to deal with such threats. One was vigilance in keeping an eye on those who pose a threat.
“Our security agencies are working closely with their regional and international counterparts to exchange intelligence and cooperate in investigations,” DPM Teo said. “We are all concerned about the cross-border flows and the potential interactions between foreign fighters who may have gone to Syria, and form networks among themselves.”
The second aspect is community resilience.
He said the Government is working in partnership with the community to counter the radical ideology propagated by the terrorists.
“We encourage the community in Singapore to be aware of them and not to subscribe to the ideology,” DPM Teo said. “We also encourage Singaporeans not to stoke inter-communal tensions, where these do not exist and are unnecessary.”
One of the things the government was doing to build community resilience was to work through groups like the Religious Rehabilitation Group which has taken upon itself the responsibility of helping to counsel and rehabilitate those who have gone down the wrong path.
Recent news reports in Malaysia have also said that extremists in the region are hoping to set up an Islamic caliphate in Malaysia and Indonesia.
“The Syrian conflict does pose a very serious long-term threat for Singapore and for other countries,” DPM Teo said in July, “and we do want to make sure that we work together and not allow it to pull our society apart.”
The Malaysian government, in the meantime, says it is keeping close tabs on the Malaysian man and his Singaporean family and is trying to find out how they were influenced to go to Syria.