A former full-time National Serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning to carry out a knife attack against Jews at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue at Waterloo Street.
Amirull Ali, 20, had reportedly also planned to travel to Gaza, Palestine to join Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB), in its fight against Israel, according to the Internal Security Department (ISD) in a release on Wednesday (10 Mar).
ISD said that Amirull’s interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict started sometime in 2014 after he viewed a video which showed Palestinian civilians being bombed by Israeli fighter jets.
His subsequent online research into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict convinced him that Israel was oppressing Palestinians and also deepened his hatred for Israel.
His support for the AQB began in 2015 after he read a book that glorified the group’s exploits in fighting for Palestinian rights, according to ISD.
In 2018, Amirull discussed with a foreign contact his intention to travel to Palestine to join AQB and was encouraged to do so, as he was told that he would become a martyr if he were to die fighting against the enemies of Islam on the battlefield.
Between mid-2018 and 2020, Amirull made preparations to travel to Gaza to take up arms alongside AQB. He researched travel routes to Gaza, and practised how to handle a rifle using a replica of an AK-47 assault rifle which he made himself.
He was focused on the AK-47, as he believed that he would be issued one by AQB based on what he had read about the group.
Amirull planned to join AQB after completing his full-time National Service and when he had saved up enough money to do so.
In July 2019, Amirull watched a CNA documentary on the Jewish community in Singapore and was enraged that Jews were thriving peacefully in Singapore, whilst Palestinians were suffering overseas, according to ISD.
Amirull then decided that he would conduct an attack against Jews at the Synagogue.
However, Amirull knew that it would be difficult to procure a firearm in Singapore. Subsequently, he planned to use a Smith & Wesson knife to carry out his attack.
He had originally purchased the knife in 2016 for his scouting activities.
To prepare himself for the attack, he downloaded an image of the human vascular system, which he used to identify the mid-section as the best place to stab his intended victims to inflict a quick death from massive bleeding.
He then made a replica knife to practise stabbing motions and grip techniques at home, so as to avoid damaging the actual knife or injuring himself.
He admitted to having made at least two physical reconnaissance trips to the synagogue, between August and early October 2019.
From his recce trips, he had identified a suitable spot along the exterior wall of the synagogue’s compound from where he could ambush his victims when they exited from the synagogue.
He was careful not to take pictures of the synagogue during his reconnaissance to avoid attracting security attention. He downloaded an online picture of the synagogue instead for reference, prior to his reconnaissance trips.
Amirull planned to execute his attack at the synagogue on a Saturday, after Jewish congregational prayers.
His goal was to kill three Jewish males, as he assumed that they would have served national service in Israel and hence carried out alleged atrocities against the Palestinians.
He intended to conceal his face with a white keffiyeh (scarf) when carrying out the attack and would flee the scene after the attack and return home to post a short manifesto online.
The aim of the manifesto was to incite all oppressed people to mount attacks against tyrannical regimes using “any means necessary”, including “assassinat[ion]” and “vigilante justice”.
In October 2019, Amirull had second thoughts about his attack plan. He was concerned that he would not attain martyrdom should he be arrested and sentenced to death after the attack. In his mind, martyrdom could only be achieved by fighting on an actual battlefield in Gaza.
Nevertheless, Amirull revisited his attack plan in December 2020 when he became enraged by an online video about the killing of an unarmed and autistic Palestinian man by Israeli forces.
He considered mounting the attack on Christmas Day last year and planned to wear a black ski mask instead of the white keffiyeh.
Amirull had bought the black ski mask in March last year with the intention of wearing it when he joined the AQB in Gaza, as he had seen AQB fighters wearing such a mask.
However, he eventually shelved his attack plans, as he remained concerned about not attaining martyrdom.
ISD’s investigation to-date indicates that Amirull had acted alone. There was no sign of him trying to influence anyone with his radical outlook or involve others in his attack plans. His immediate family and others in his social circles were not aware of his attack plans.
However, ISD noted that Amirull was only held back by the prospect of not achieving martyrdom — had he remained undetected, he might have eventually carried out his attack plans in Singapore or travelled abroad to undertake armed violence.
“Amirull posed an imminent security threat to Singapore and has been detained under the ISA,” said the ISD.
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) in a separate statement said that all Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) equipment has been accounted for in the unit Amirull was in, and that no equipment from the unit was missing.
“Both MINDEF’s and ISD’s investigations revealed that Amirull did not attempt to influence others in his NS unit,” the Ministry added.
Amirull was an administrative support assistant when he was serving his National Service, MINDEF noted.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Wednesday said that “security measures (at places of worship) may have to be stepped up a bit to balance off the risks that are increasing”.
“I can’t give you a definite answer for the future. It has to depend on how the threats evolve. But, my own sense is that not all religious sites will have to be protected to the same level. Some face a higher threat level, and they may have to take some additional measures,” he added.
Mr Shanmugam said the authorities will liaise and work together with different places of worship to “alert them”.
“There may have to be more hardware, there may also have to be some guards, but perhaps in a more discreet way,” he added. “There may have to be some guards inside, but I think we need to be very, very careful how we do it. Otherwise, places of worship won’t look or feel like places of worship.”
Separately, in December last year, a 16-year-old Singaporean was detained under the ISA for allegedly drawing up “detailed plans and preparations” to attack Muslims at two mosques in Singapore using a machete.
According to the ISD in a statement on 27 January, the youth, who is a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, “is the first detainee to be inspired by far-right extremist ideology” and the youngest individual so far to be detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.
Brenton Tarrant, the Australian gunman singlehandedly responsible for the Christchurch mosque massacre that took 51 lives in March 2019, had purportedly influenced the youth’s views.
The ISD said that the youth had watched the live-stream of the attack and read Tarrant’s 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,” the ISD explaiined, in highlighting the youth’s “strong antipathy towards Islam”.
The youth, said ISD, had planned to carry out his attacks on 15 March this year, on the anniversary of the Christchurch attacks.
“He chose Assyafaah Mosque and Yusof Ishak Mosque as his targets, because they were near his home. He conducted online reconnaissance and research on both mosques to prepare for the attack,” the ISD added.