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Looming Daesh-linked terrorism threat in Singapore remains high due to regional attacks: MHA

Terror attacks in the Southeast Asian region – such as the church bombings in Indonesia last May – and radicalisation of individuals within the domestic population both pose a high terrorism risk to Singapore, said the Ministry of Home Affairs.

In its 2019 Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report, MHA cited the “virulent ideology” of Daesh, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), as “the most pressing threat to Singapore” currently, given that the movement is still making its way through cyberspace to sympathisers, regionally and globally – and even those in Singapore.

The Ministry elaborated that “ISIS’ persistent interest in the region raises the threat to Singapore,” as they “may be inspired to mount attacks in various parts of Southeast Asia, including Singapore ” despite efforts by authorities to “disrupt ISIS-linked plots”, seen in the Malaysian authorities’ arrest of “more than 80 militants” and foiling “four terrorist plots” as recently as last year.

“Singaporeans may also be radicalised by ISIS’ propaganda and take up arms for ISIS.

“For instance, Singaporean Imran Kassim, who is currently detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), had intended to join the Marawi City siege in 2017.

“More Southeast Asian ISIS fighters could seek to return given ISIS’ heavy territorial losses in Syria and Iraq,” added MHA.

Trained returnees with operational skills and combat experience would pose a significant threat as they are able to carry out more sophisticated and lethal attacks,” warned the Ministry, citing the killing of a policeman in Indonesia in 2017 and attempts to launch attacks on police stations and army camps in Malaysia two years prior to that by ISIS fighters who returned to their respective countries.

“Other terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda (AQ) are regrouping. In Southeast Asia, there is the possibility that JI, which is aligned with AQ, may resume planning attacks,” added MHA.

MHA noted that “we continue to detect Singaporeans, and foreigners working in Singapore becoming radicalised by terrorist propaganda”.

The Ministry revealed: “In the past two years, eight self-radicalised individuals were dealt with under the ISA.[1]

“This brings the total number of Singaporeans dealt with under the ISA since 2015 to 22.

“In contrast, between 2007 and 2014, we dealt with only 11 radicalised Singaporeans under the ISA.

On foreigners in Singapore who have been radicalised by terrorist ideologies, MHA noted that “14 Indonesian domestic workers have been repatriated after they were found to have been radicalised” since 2015, and that “three Malaysian Work Permit holders were arrested for their suspected involvement in terrorism-related activities” last year.

“One harboured the intention of travelling to Syria or Palestine to participate in the conflict there, while the other two were allegedly involved in a Johor-based ISIS-linked cell that was plotting attacks in Malaysia. All three were repatriated to Malaysia,” added the Ministry.

“None of the foreigners investigated had any plans to mount attacks in Singapore,” MHA stressed.

“Security agencies alone cannot detect every radicalised individual in Singapore,” said MHA, even with the SGsecure movement launched by the Home Team in 2016.

“The community,” the Ministry stressed, “also plays an important role”.

“Family, friends and colleagues are best placed to notice changes in an individual,” MHA advised, adding that “Anyone who knows or suspects that a person is radicalised should promptly call the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD)”.

“Besides staying vigilant, the community should also take steps to be better prepared for an attack,” added MHA, which “includes learning life-saving skills such as First Aid, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, and the use of Automated External Defibrillators”.

“Armed with these skills, individuals can respond more effectively if caught in an emergency,” said the Ministry.

MHA reminded the public not to be complacent regarding the looming terrorism threat in Singapore, given that terrorist ideologies are far from being fully eradicated in Southeast Asia at the moment.

“While there has been no credible or specific intelligence of an attack being planned against Singapore since the last report, our security agencies continue to maintain high vigilance.

“The terrorism threat to Singapore will persist, so long as the violent ideology fuelling the threat continues to find traction.

“The public must continue to stay alert, and be prepared that an attack might one day succeed,” warned MHA.