‘No threat to children under radicalised woman’s care’

‘No threat to children under radicalised woman’s care’
People’s Action Party Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots preschool at Blk 385 Tampines Street 32. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY
Published: 10:15 PM, June 12, 2017
Updated: 2:10 PM, June 13, 2017

SINGAPORE — The children who were previously under the care of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari are “safe and well cared for”, said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) on Monday (June 12).

The assurance came following a visit by the agency to the People’s Action Party Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots preschool in Blk 385 Tampines Street 32, where the 22-year-old woman — the first female to be detained for radicalisation — had worked for less than a year, before she was nabbed this month under the Internal Security Act (ISA). 

Tampines GRC Member of Parliament Cheng Li Hui, who looks after the Tampines East division, also wrote on Facebook that “at no time was there a threat to the children under (Izzah’s) care”, as she acknowledged that some Singaporeans, especially parents, “may be disturbed that she was an infant care assistant and in contact with children”. 

Separately, in a letter given out to parents with children enrolled at the centre, Ms Cheng described the detention as a “serious matter ... which is being handled by the security agencies”. She also assured the parents that the centre has been working with the authorities. 

Together with four other employees, Izzah cared for 10 infants aged between two and 18 months, as an infant care assistant.

In response to media queries, an ECDA spokesperson said that Izzah worked under supervision in providing routine care to the infants in the centre, and her duties included helping to feed the infants, change diapers and playing with them. 

“In the course of work, Izzah would always have a trained staff supervising her,” said the spokesperson. “Based on our interactions with staff, we have assessed the children to be safe and well cared for,” she added.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said Izzah began to be radicalised in 2013 by online propaganda related to the Islamic State terrorist group. 

Her radicalisation deepened over time, “exacerbated by a wide network of foreign online contacts which she developed”, the ministry said. 

Since 2015, she had been looking for an IS supporter to marry, actively planning to make her way to Syria with her young child. She was prepared to undergo military training and engage in armed combat to defend the IS if called upon by the terrorist group to do so, the MHA said. 

Parents whose children were enrolled at the preschool told TODAY they were not overly perturbed, but some noted that the news was sudden, and they would seek more information from the centre.  

Software engineer Jonathan Handoyo, 33, said that as he did not know how much contact Izzah had with his five-year-old daughter, he would try to find out more from the teachers. On how the school handled the situation, he said he would reserve his judgment until he had spoken to the teachers. 

Financial consultant Hong Wan Ling, 26, who has a four-year-old daughter at the centre, felt that the children were “too young to be influenced”, although there was some degree of concern. 

In her Facebook post, Ms Cheng said she was “disheartened” to learn that a Singaporean has been detained for becoming radicalised.

Nevertheless, she added: “What this incident shows us is that the threat of terrorism is real. Our security agencies will do their best but it is not their responsibility alone. 

“If you notice suspicious behaviour or signs of radicalisation among your family and friends, please take a stand and alert the relevant authorities. We all have a role to play to prevent terrorist attacks and protect our home.”