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No imminent terrorist threat to Singapore but Isis, emerging far-right extremism are concerns: ISD

SINGAPORE — There is no “specific and credible” intelligence pointing to an imminent terrorist attack against Singapore presently, though the threat from self-radicalised individuals influenced by violent materials online remains prevalent, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said in a report on Wednesday (June 23).

No imminent terrorist threat to Singapore but Isis, emerging far-right extremism are concerns: ISD

Security officers patrolling along Orchard Road. The authorities said that the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group that had plotted attacks in Singapore two decades ago remains a latent threat.

  • ​Most of the radical and violent ideology that led to individuals becoming self-radicalised comes from Isis
  • Despite its military losses, Isis continues to be the primary threat to Singapore
  • The authorities here warned, too, about the emerging threat of far-right extremism
  • Since 2015, 54 individuals have been dealt with under the Internal Security Act for terrorism-related conduct

 

SINGAPORE — There is no “specific and credible” intelligence pointing to an imminent terrorist attack against Singapore presently, though the threat from self-radicalised individuals influenced by violent materials online remains prevalent, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said in a report on Wednesday (June 23).

Most of the radical and violent ideology influencing these individuals comes from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), which continues to be the primary threat to Singapore.

The periodic report, which assesses terrorism threats to Singapore, said that the authorities are also mindful of emerging threats about far-right extremism that could gain traction in the region.

Last December, Singapore detected its first case of a self-radicalised individual inspired by far-right extremist ideologies — a 16-year-old student who had planned to attack two mosques with a machete.

Since its last report at the start of 2019, ISD has foiled attacks by two Singaporean youth who targeted places of worship in Singapore.

“These cases underscore the very real threat of lone-actor attacks by self-radicalised individuals,” the report said.

Stressing that the terrorism threat to Singapore remains high, the report noted that foreign groups such as Isis and Al Qaeda have stepped up their recruitment and propaganda efforts on social media during the pandemic, encouraging their supporters worldwide to conduct attacks.

“The enduring appeal of Isis violent ideology is seen among the self-radicalised cases dealt with in Singapore in the past two years, the majority of whom were Isis supporters,” the report added.

Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al Qaeda-aligned terrorist group that had plotted attacks in Singapore two decades ago, also remains a latent threat.

ISD said: “We need to maintain vigilance and strengthen the community’s preparedness and resilience. Above all, we need to safeguard our social cohesion. A cohesive and united society is our best defence against terrorism and radicalisation.” 

EXTERNAL THREATS

ISD said that Southeast Asia remains part of Isis’ decentralised global caliphate and is still the primary terrorism threat actor in the region.

  • Isis is still an active insurgent force in Syria and Iraq, reportedly with some 10,000 fighters and millions in cash reserves despite recent territorial losses

  • The number and scale of terror attacks and plots by regional pro-Isis terror groups fell in 2019 and 2020 due to strong counter-terrorism measures

  • Covid-19 travel restrictions seem to have had an impact on the movement of terrorists in the region, particularly those seeking to travel to foreign conflict zones

  • The return of foreign terrorists from these conflict zones to their home countries in Southeast Asia were also hampered by repatriation difficulties and travel restrictions

  • Should they make their way home, they would pose a serious threat

  • Those remaining overseas could also direct terror activities in the region, such as one case of a suicide bombing attack in the Philippines that was facilitated by an Afghanistan-based militant from Indonesia in 2019

Al Qaeda is also rebuilding itself despite senior leadership losses last year, the ISD report said. It further warned that the impending withdrawal of United States military troops from Afghanistan by next month could facilitate the resurgence of the terrorist organisation, which relies on a “long game strategy” of building support through regional affiliates.

  • Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has continued to recruit and operate in Indonesia despite the arrests of 160 JI members and senior leaders since 2019

  • JI has continued to grow its revenue streams through legitimate businesses and by undertaking fund-raising appeals “under the guise of humanitarian efforts directed towards the Covid-19 pandemic and overseas conflicts”

  • JI has also sent some of its members overseas for training, who have since returned to Indonesia

  • Two separate JI-linked plots were detected in Indonesia this year and last

  • These developments portend the possibility that JI is rebuilding its military capabilities and may re-engage in terrorist violence in Indonesia 

Far-right ideology, which is deemed as a major terrorism concern and a fast-growing threat overseas, “does not currently have significant traction in Southeast Asia”, ISD added in the report.

  • Yet, far-right ideology and its broader messages of ethno-religious chauvinism and anti-immigration nativism have “found resonance” with some hardline groups in this region

  • Such narratives could deepen societal fault-lines and even inspire individuals to mount acts of violence against members of other communities

  • Violence conducted by far-right extremists could also provoke retaliatory attacks from Islamist terrorist groups
     

DOMESTIC THREATS

Since 2015, 54 individuals have been dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA) here for terrorism-related conduct. Of these, 44 are self-radicalised individuals, comprising 32 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners, ISD said.

This meant that self-radicalisation of people, who could turn to easily available objects that can be used as weapons, is still the predominant threat to Singapore.

“Furthermore, self-radicalised individuals leave little operational footprint and can mobilise to violence very quickly,” the report stated.

There were 16 people issued terrorism-related ISA orders since the previous report in January 2019. Of these, 14 were self-radicalised — 12 were Isis supporters or were inspired by the Syrian conflict.

Looking at these trends, ISD said it is evident that Isis' territorial and leadership losses have not diminished its appeal to those radicalised by its violent, apocalyptic narratives.

Far-right extremism only appeared in the single case of the 16-year-old youth plotting the mosque attacks, ISD said.

  • Besides this case, there is currently no indication that far-right extremism has gained significant traction in Singapore

  • There are no widespread expressions of Islamophobia in Singapore, the report added. Islamophobic incidents here are generally sporadic and contained

  • However, Singapore is not immune to far-right or anti-Islam ideologies, which are prevalent on social media

  • “We have to stay vigilant and take a firm stand against any rhetoric that promotes hatred or animosity towards other communities, and draw the line at the pursuit of any violent action, regardless of how it is justified,” ISD said.
     

THREAT OUTLOOK

Giving an outlook on the threat for Singapore, ISD said that the recent cases involving the two Singaporean youth who had made detailed plans and preparations to kill Muslims and Jews in Singapore, “are a sobering reminder that the threat of lone actor attacks remains very real”.

The department urged Singaporeans to be vigilant to signs of radicalisation among others and to notify the authorities if they see such signs.

A 2019 National Security Awareness Survey by the Ministry of Communications and Information found that only about half of respondents would contact the authorities if they believed that their relative or friend has been displaying signs of radicalisation, the report noted.

Possible signs of radicalisation include: 

  • Frequently surfing radical websites 

  • Posting or sharing extremist views on social media platforms, such as expressing support or admiration for terrorists or terrorist groups as well as the use of violence

  • Sharing their extremist views with friends and relatives

  • Making remarks that promote ill-will or hatred towards people of other races or religions 

  • Expressing intent to participate in acts of violence overseas or in Singapore

  • Inciting others to participate in acts of violence 

Anyone who knows or suspects that a person is radicalised should promptly contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD). The identity of the informer will be protected, the department said.

Related topics

Internal Security Department terrorism ISIS far-right extremism Internal Security Act

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