07 October 2014
Oral reply to Parliamentary question on Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs
Mr Ang Wei Neng: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs in view of the recent beheadings carried out by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, whether there is an increased security threat to Singapore.
In July this year, I informed this House about the increased terrorism threat posed by foreign fighters in Syria, and the potential impact on our social cohesion if Singaporeans are involved in or support violence there. The escalation of violence in Syria and Iraq over the last three months has further increased these threats to Singapore.
Escalation of International Terrorism Threat
2. The group that calls itself Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) which I referred to in July, continues to actively recruit foreign fighters, including those from Southeast Asia. Its brutality has not been confined to beheadings of Westerners, but also to the killing of other Muslims and minority communities in Syria and Iraq. A US-led coalition of more than 40 countries including several Arab states is now taking counter-action against ISIL. In response, ISIL is encouraging its supporters in other countries, including self-radicalised extremists and returnee fighters, to kill military personnel as well as civilians from the coalition countries. Australia, which is a coalition member, recently arrested several ISIL supporters who were planning to behead some random person in Sydney and video the act. The US, UK and French authorities have also recently made arrests.
Security Implications for Singapore
3. We currently have no information of any specific threat to us arising directly from the beheadings by ISIL or as a result of the anti-ISIL strikes. However, our assessment remains that the expansion of the ISIL threat beyond Syria and Iraq has raised the threat not only to countries who are part of the US-led coalition but also to Singapore. As with the threat from Al-Qaeda (AQ), even if Singapore is not itself a target, foreign interests here may be targeted. This House may recall that AQ, working with the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), had planned to bomb the US and other embassies in Singapore in 2002.
4. There are reports that some Malaysians and Indonesians who fought for ISIL have formed a militant group called Katibah Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiyyah or Malay Archipelago Unit for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. If this group expands in Southeast Asia, it will pose a regional terrorism threat much like the JI terrorist network, which had also aimed to set up a South East Asian Islamic Archipelago that encompassed Singapore, through the use of violence and terrorism.
5. The Indonesian and Malaysian governments have taken action against their citizens who support ISIL or who have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight. The Indonesian government has banned the teachings of and support for ISIL, and has said it would revoke the citizenship of Indonesians who join the group. The Malaysian government has designated ISIL as a terrorist group.
Security Measures to Deal with Local Sympathisers and Fighters
6. Our security agencies are working with our security partners to monitor the situation in Syria and Iraq closely through the exchange of information, and will cooperate with them to counter the threat posed by foreign terrorists to Singapore.
7. At the same time, we are taking measures to prevent Singaporeans from getting involved in the violence there or from carrying out activities in support of ISIL. We have co-sponsored the United Nations Security Council resolution on foreign terrorist fighters that requires all nations to adopt laws that would make it a serious crime for their nationals to, among others, join extremist groups such as ISIL and AQ affiliate Al-Nusra Front. Any Singaporean who assists, supports, promotes or joins violent organisations like ISIL would have demonstrated a dangerous tendency to support the use of violence. Such a person poses a real threat to Singapore’s national security, and will be dealt with in accordance with our laws.
8. Our approach will be carefully calibrated to the specifics of each case. Where necessary, the Internal Security Act (ISA) will be used in order to pre-empt and neutralise these terrorism threats to the security of our citizens and our country. A handful of Singaporeans have gone to Syria to take part in the fight and are last known to still be there. We will continue to investigate anyone who expresses support for terrorism or an interest to pursue violence.
Society Must Play its Part
9. Everyone can play a part in protecting our country against the terrorism threat.
10. First, Singaporeans should help to safeguard family and friends from becoming radicalised. Alert the authorities early, so that those dear to you can be assisted, and prevented from going down the path towards violence and doing themselves and others harm.
11. Second, Singaporeans must remain united and cohesive, and not let any fallout from the violence adversely affect our social cohesion. Communal backlash is often seen after major terrorism-related incidents. In Brisbane, Australia for example, there were cases of abusive messages spray-painted in mosques and retaliatory vandalism at Christian churches following the arrests of the ISIL supporters
12. In July this year, I met leaders from the various community and religious groups in Singapore to discuss the Government’s concerns over the Syrian conflict and the potential impact on our social cohesion. I am happy to note that various collaborative community initiatives have since been established to counter ISIL’s radical rhetoric. The Religious Rehabilitation Group, for example, plans to produce online videos to debunk ISIL’s ideology in order to better reach out to Internet-savvy youths who are most at risk of being radicalised via social media. Bona fide channels are also available for Singaporeans who wish to provide humanitarian aid to those in Syria and Iraq.
13. All members of the public can also play their part by being alert to suspicious persons, objects and activities. A timely call to the authorities could well save many innocent lives. By working together, we can make Singapore a safer place for everyone.