Two Singaporean were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in January 2019 for their alleged involvement in terrorism-related activities.
In a press release on Friday (15 February), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that the two men are Mohamed Kazali bin Salleh (Kazali) and Hazim Syahmi bin Mahfoot (Hazim).
According to the ministry, Kazali, a 48-year-old businessman based in Malaysia, is a close associate of Syria-based ISIS militant Malaysian Wan Mohd Aquil bin Wan Zainal Abidin @ Akel Zainal (Akel).
Akel is believed to be the most senior Malaysian ISIS fighter in Syria, and was identified by the Malaysian authorities to be responsible for two recent ISIS-linked attack plots in Malaysia.
MHA said that Kazali relocated to Malaysia with his family when he was a young child, and has been working in Johor Bahru over the past decade. He first met Akel in 2009 and became strongly influenced by Akel’s radical views and conspiracy theories. He was convinced by Akel’s belief that Muslims are duty-bound to travel to Syria to fight against those who oppress Muslims.
When Akel decided to go to Syria to fight in late 2013, Kazali had provided him with financial assistance for his trip. His material assistance to Akel continued when Akel was in Syria, and in turn, Akel had kept him updated on his exploits on the battlefield.
Kazali believed that the help he gave to Akel would guarantee him a place in paradise should Akel achieve martyrdom in Syria, the ministry noted.
As Kazali became increasingly radicalised over time, he saw ISIS fighters as “righteous” individuals defending Muslims in Syria and around the world. At Akel’s urging, he took a bai’ah (pledge of allegiance) to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, which was conveyed to Akel via social media.
He also agreed to join Akel in Syria when invited by the latter to do so on several occasions; he did not however act on it as he was not ready to leave his life in Malaysia behind. Instead, he took to sharing news of Akel’s terrorism-related activities in Syria on social media to inspire others to travel to Syria.
He was prepared to facilitate the travel of any individual who wanted to undertake armed violence in Syria through Akel.
In December 2018, the ministry said that Kazali received instructions from Akel to carry out an attack against a Freemasons centre in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, but did not follow through as he was afraid to be caught by the authorities.
Meanwhile, Hazim, a 28-year-old freelance car exporter based in Singapore, met Kazali in May 2018 in Singapore. They had business dealings, and quickly developed a personal friendship.
According to MHA, Hazim was influenced by Kazali’s radical outlook. Hazim looked up to Kazali and was convinced by Kazali that he should undertake armed violence against the perceived enemies of his religion, specifically non-Muslims.
Hazim believed that all Muslims are duty-bound to travel to conflict zones such as Palestine, Syria and Myanmar to fight non-Muslims there. He then took a bai’ah to remain loyal and obedient to Kazali, even if it involved carrying out attacks and killing others.
The ministry stressed that the Internal Security Department (ISD) of Singapore and the Malaysian Special Branch (MSB) cooperated closely on investigations into Kazali’s terrorism-related activities and his links with Akel.
Kazali was arrested in Malaysia by MSB officers in December 2018, and deported to Singapore and handed over to ISD on 7 January 2019. He was arrested and subsequently issued with an Order of Detention (OD) under the ISA. While, Hazim was in turn arrested in Singapore and subsequently issued with an OD in January 2019.
The ministry stressed that these cases highlight the dangers of radicalisation of Singaporeans overseas, and the potential impact within Singapore. The threat of extremism is one which does not respect national borders.