Singapore has always maintained a tough position against the influx of external radicalism ever since the initial arrests against suspected Islamic militants from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group in 2002.
However, it now has to contend with internal radicalization by those who learn from internet sources as the recent arrests have uncovered.
Bloomberg last Friday (8 June) reported that Singapore has arrested “five men suspected of being Islamic militants” under the Internal Security Act which allows for indefinite detention without trial. Four of them are alleged JI members –Ishak Mohamed Noohu, Mohamed Hussain bin Saynudin, Mohamed Yassin O.P. Mohamed Nooh and Ibrahim bin Mohamed Noor. In particular, Ishak has trained in neighbouring Philippines and Mohamed Yassin in Malaysia.
However, the most worrisome of all has been Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader, a law graduate of the National University of Singapore, arrested in February this year. The Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs said that Abdul Basheer was apparently “self-radicalised” by the “extremist propaganda he read on the Internet” and had intended to “contact the (Pakistani) militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and join the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan”.
Channel News Asia reported community leaders’ concerns over “the new trend of self-radicalisation”. Local Islamic leader, Ustaz Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, Office of the Mufti, Islamic Religious Council of Singapore Islamic Religious Council of Singapore(MUIS), said, “This highlights to us the permeating influence of the internet, and the need for us to continuously advise our community to learn Islam from credible and recognised sources.” He cautioned against the dangers of the orthodoxy of internet sources of religion, saying, “We must begin learning Islam from the right sources, especially from our recognised teachers and we can consult the internet for extra information. If the internet becomes the starting point, and one does not have the moral values and the moral foundations of what Islam says, that would be troubling, because you would be easily misled and you would be in a very vulnerable position.”
Apart from such domestic concerns, Singapore has declared a “no toleration” stance against terrorism. Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng announced, “Any Singaporean who makes plans and takes part in violence whether in Singapore or abroad, or gives support of any form for any terror-related activities, whether local or abroad, is a security threat and will be dealt with firmly.” Singapore has to be vigilant against such people as the person who goes overseas to conduct violence and terrorist activities “can one day also come back and do the same to Singapore and work against Singaporeans. Surely a change of geography does not change his violent and extremist beliefs or his propensity to resort to terrorist violence to pursue these beliefs.”
This view is shared by Singaporean Muslim leaders. Today noted Imran Mohamed, head of the Association of Muslim Professionals, as saying, “If, for example, Abdul Basheer feels strongly about fighting against the United States, then he could bring his fight to local shores where there are several US interests. From a security angle, he is a threat.” Also, Associate Prof. Farid Alatas, who heads the Malay Studies Department at the National University of Singapore said, “Geography is not important. What is critical is ideology. If a person has no qualms about taking the lives of others, whether in Pakistan,Afghanistan or elsewhere, then he is capable of taking the lives of Singaporeans.”
Malaysia was quick to issue a declaration to refute Singapore’s report that the Mohamad Yassin, one of the other four JI members arrested in this recent raid by the Singapore government, had trained in JI camps in Malaysia. Malaysia police chief Musa Hassan declared, “The report by Singapore's Home Ministry is not true. I have not heard of and have never received any reports of a JI or Al Qaeda movement in this country,”
Elsewhere in the region, the Thai News Agency and more recently the Bangkok Post have noted that Thailand's supreme commander Gen. Boonsang Niempradit has said “that the Thai authorities are investigating claims that Cambodian Muslims who entered Thailand are alleged to have links with insurgent groups operating the country's far South”. It is suspected that JI operatives are helping to train insurgents in the Thai South.
The claims that Cambodian Muslims had infiltrated Thailand’s restive south and were involved in terrorist activities there were angrily denied by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In a speech that was broadcasted on national media, Hun Sen warned Thailand not to make its internal problems international by blaming the Cambodian Muslims, who he said are “good people”. He further asked the Thai Prime Minister to correct his general’s allegations and told the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok to request the Thai government to provide evidence of the allegations. He then pledged that if indeed such claims can be proven, Cambodia would cooperate with the Thai government at all levels. (11 June 2007)
No let-off for those plotting terror abroad (Straits Times, 10 June 2007)
One Abdul Basheer is one too many (Todayonline, 10 June 2007)
GPC for Home Affairs concerned about self-radicalisation trend (Channel News Asia, 9 June 2007)
Singapore Arrests Suspected Islamic Militants, Including Lawyer (Bloomberg, 9 June 2007)
ISD continues to disrupt JI network in Singapore with more detention orders (Channel News Asia, 8 June 2007)
Cambodians in JI terror link (Bangkok Post, 8 June 2007)
Claims of Cambodian Muslims in South being examined, says supreme commander (TNA, 22 May 2007)
Cambodia angry at Muslim JI charge (Bangkok Post online, 11 June 2007)