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Ex-NSF detained under ISA for plotting knife attack on Jews at Rochor synagogue, planning to join Palestinian militant group

SINGAPORE — A 20-year-old former full-time national serviceman has been detained under the Internal Security Act for plotting to attack Jews with a knife at a Rochor synagogue on two occasions, Singapore authorities said on Wednesday (March 10).

Ex-NSF detained under ISA for plotting knife attack on Jews at Rochor synagogue, planning to join Palestinian militant group

Amirull Ali has been detained under the Internal Security Act for plotting to attack Jews with a knife (right) at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Waterloo Street (left).

  • Former full-time serviceman was self-radicalised, wanted to carry out armed violence in Palestine against Jews
  • He was enraged that Jews were thriving peacefully in Singapore after watching a documentary on Jews here
  • Twice, he planned to carry out a knife attack on men at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Waterloo Street
  • The Internal Security Department said he might have carried out the plans eventually if he remained undetected

 

SINGAPORE — A 20-year-old former full-time national serviceman has been detained under the Internal Security Act for plotting to attack Jews with a knife at a Rochor synagogue on two occasions, Singapore authorities said on Wednesday (March 10).

Amirull Ali, who is no longer with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) following his arrest, had hatched detailed plans to kill Jewish men at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Waterloo Street in 2019 and again in December last year, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said in a statement. 

He had also made arrangements to join the military wing of the Hamas group in Gaza, Palestine to join its fight against Israel in order to become a martyr, the department added.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that this is the first time a self-radicalised Singaporean primarily driven by the Palestine-Israel conflict has been picked up under the ISA. The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) sounded an alert on Amirull’s possible radical bent earlier this year.

ISD said Amirull, who acted alone, was detained as he posed an imminent security threat: “If Amirull had remained undetected, he might have eventually carried out his attack plans in Singapore or travelled abroad to undertake armed violence.”

He was arrested on Feb 5 and issued a detention order a month later, on March 5.

During a visit to the synagogue on Wednesday morning, Mr Shanmugam said Amirull was not detained because he sympathised with the Palestinian cause, but because he wanted to kill innocent people in Singapore to show support for the Palestinians. 

“It's perfectly okay to support the Palestinian cause, but it's not okay to go around killing people.”

SELF-RADICALISATION BEGAN IN 2014

Setting out a timeline of Amirull’s self-radicalisation, ISD charted how his hatred for Israel intensified over time, beginning in 2014 after he watched videos that showed Israeli fighter jets bombing Palestinian citizens. 

He also read a book that glorified the exploits of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB), the military wing of the Islamist movement Hamas, in Palestine in 2015.

Three years later, in 2018, he discussed with a foreign contact his intention to join the AQB, based on the department’s investigation.

Between the middle of 2018 and 2020, Amirull researched routes to Gaza to take up arms alongside the AQB, intending to travel there via Cairo, Egypt and entering the self-governing Palestinian territory through a land crossing. 

He made a replica of the AK-47 rifle from wood and plastic to practise using the weapon, as he believed the AQB would issue one to him if he joined them.

ISD said Amirull planned to join the AQB after he completed National Service and had saved enough money by working as a chef.

Amirull made a replica of the AK-47 rifle from wood and plastic to practise using the weapon. Photo: Internal Security Department

DETAILED PLANS TO ATTACK JEWS

In July 2019, Amirull began making plans to attack Jews here after he watched a documentary on the Jewish community in Singapore on news channel CNA. The documentary was part of a series showcasing different communities here. 

ISD said in its statement: “(Amirull) was enraged that Jews were thriving peacefully in Singapore, while Palestinians were suffering overseas. Amirull then decided that he would conduct an attack against Jews at the synagogue.”

He planned to attack Jews after their congregational prayers on a Saturday — known as Sabbath, the seventh day of rest in Judaism. 

Amirull’s goal was to kill three Jewish men. He believed they would have served their Israeli national service and would thus have carried out alleged atrocities against the Palestinians, said ISD.

He made several preparations to carry out the attack:

  • Amirull planned to use a Smith & Wesson knife that he bought in 2016

  • He made a replica knife to practise stabbing motions and grip techniques at home

  • He downloaded an image of the human vascular system to study where to stab his intended victims

  • He made two reconnaissance trips to the synagogue between August and early October 2019, identifying an area where he could ambush his victims

  • To avoid detection, he did not take pictures, but downloaded a picture of the synagogue to use as a reference

ISD detailed how Amirull intended to conceal his face with a white Arabic scarf known as a keffiyeh while carrying out the intended attack, then fleeing home to post a short manifesto online about his deeds.

Said ISD: “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’.”

But Amirull shelved this plan in October 2019, as he was concerned that he would not attain martyrdom if he was arrested and sentenced to death after the attack.

“In his mind, martyrdom could only be achieved by fighting in an actual battlefield in Gaza,” said ISD.

In December last year, however, he considered carrying out another attack on Christmas Day, which was also the first day of the Hanukkah festival in Judaism. This time, he planned to don a black balaclava — a type of ski mask that he believed was worn by AQB fighters — instead of the Arabic scarf.

His renewed desire to attack Jews came after he watched another online video about the killing of an unarmed and autistic Palestinian man by Israeli forces in May last year.

He backed out of this attack plan as he still had doubts about attaining martyrdom, said the department.

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ISD WAS ALERTED BY MINDEF

ISD’s investigation to date revealed that Amirull had acted alone here — his immediate family and others in his social circles were unaware of his plans.

“There was no sign of him trying to influence anyone with his radical outlook or involve others in his attack plans,” the department said.

ISD said Mindef sounded an alert that Amirull “could have been radicalised by extremist ideologies”, which was later confirmed by ISD. 

“It is important for the public to remain vigilant to signs that someone around us may have become radicalised, so that we can intervene early to avert a tragedy,” the department said.

“ISD will take firm action against any individual in Singapore who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise such violence, or where the violence takes place.”

Following ISD’s statement, Mindef confirmed that Amirull, an administrative support assistant, had not tried to influence others in his National Service unit. 

No military equipment in his unit was missing, said the ministry.

“Nonetheless, the SAF will continue to maintain a high degree of vigilance against potential signs of radicalism and extremism among our servicemen,” Mindef said.

Related topics

Internal Security Act Internal Security Department synagogue attack crime

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