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Planned mosque attacks: Religious leaders alarmed by student’s age, say the young need more guidance against extremist views

SINGAPORE — Religious leaders in Singapore are dismayed and shocked by the latest news of a 16-year-old boy who made detailed plans to carry out terror attacks against Muslims at two mosques here. This was especially because of his young age, they said.

Planned mosque attacks: Religious leaders alarmed by student’s age, say the young need more guidance against extremist views

The National Council of Churches of Singapore stressed that the anti-Islam ideology a detained teenager subscribed to was against Christian teachings.

  • Responding to the case of a self-radicalised teenager, religious leaders said more could be done to educate the young
  • The incident shows the risk of young people being swayed to action by extremist teachings online, they said
  • The National Council of Churches of Singapore stressed that the anti-Islam ideology the boy subscribed to was against Christian teachings
  • Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said the authorities are aware of the worrying trend of young people getting self-radicalised

 

SINGAPORE — Religious leaders in Singapore are dismayed and shocked by the latest news of a 16-year-old boy who made detailed plans to carry out terror attacks against Muslims at two mosques here. This was especially because of his young age, they said.

Several religious leaders interviewed by TODAY on Wednesday (Jan 27) said that more could be done to educate the young, who may be subject to misguided extremist views online.

The secondary school student, a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, was detained under the Internal Security Act last December after being influenced by far-right extremist Brenton Harrison Tarrant. The Australian livestreamed his massacre of more than 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) rejected such ideology and stressed that these beliefs do not originate from Christian scriptures.

“We totally reject any ideology — even if they should come fictitiously under the label ‘Christian’ — that promotes or incites violence against another, especially if they are of a different religious community,” it said in a statement.

“(NCCS) wishes to assure our Muslim friends that there is no animosity between our communities, and that we remain committed to defeating hatred and violence.”

PAYING MORE ATTENTION TO THE YOUNG 

Dr Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar, president of Muslim voluntary welfare organisation Jamiyah Singapore, said this case signified that the work to correct misguided ideas about all other religions must continue and that perhaps, this time, more effort could be geared towards the younger generation.

“Thus far, the Muslim community has been specifically targeted and pushed on the defensive,” he said in a statement.  

“Local Muslim leaders not only have had to correct the many misconceptions about Islam, but had also to conduct a regular stream of rehabilitative programmes aimed at preventing their own folk from going astray.” 

Dr Hasbi called on all religious communities to be involved to rid any extremist beliefs from the country.

The authorities said on Wednesday that the 16-year-old boy’s family and friends were unaware of his plans and the depth of his hatred for Islam. The boy had kept his plans to himself.

Noting that young people can easily access radical teachings online, Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said that parents have the duty to pay more attention to their children’s development.

“It’s nothing to do with religion but an individual’s wrong perception of it,” he said, adding that young people should be encouraged to learn more about other religions by attending the festivities of faiths outside their own. 

A spokesman for the Sikh Advisory Board suggested that religious organisations take a more proactive approach towards countering extremist views online and urged Singaporeans to report any suspected signs of radicalisation among the people they know.

Reverend Ngoei Foong Nghian, general secretary of NCCS, said he was “shocked that (the detainee) was such a young boy and was meticulously planning a violent attack”.

He urged pastors, leaders and churches that still have ties to their Western far-right counterparts to be intentional in guiding their young members away from such extremist ideology.

“It has to begin at the local church level where such views and tendencies can be spotted at close quarters and, hopefully, nipped in the bud and proper spiritual nurture and counsel offered,” he told TODAY.

SEVEN YOUNG PEOPLE RADICALISED SINCE 2015

Since 2015, the authorities have arrested seven individuals aged below 20 under the Internal Security Act, in what Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam described as a “worrying” figure. The number includes the latest arrest.

Four were detained and three have been served restriction orders. Getting a restriction order means that they must abide by several conditions, such as seeking the approval of authorities if they wish to change their residence or leave Singapore.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Shanmugam said that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth is aware of the growing figures of young people becoming self-radicalised through the internet.

“Relative to many other places, you see less of it here. But nevertheless, there is this tide that’s coming in. I want to be realistic about it.”

Singapore’s strict gun control laws mean that it is difficult for radicalised individuals to conduct mass killings.

The police have also enhanced their counter-terrorism response capabilities since the November 2015 Paris attacks, Mr Shanmugam noted.

However, it is not easy for the authorities to spot knife threats all the time, such as if the teenager in the latest case had carried through with his plan to attack with a machete.

And if it had succeeded, it would likely incite fear and conflict between the country’s different racial groups and religions.

“In the end, they have to succeed only once, but ISD (the Internal Security Department) has to succeed every single time.”

Highlighting that such attacks were not restricted to one particular group, he pointed to the warped view of some quarters in the Middle East carrying out attacks in the name of Islam as well as the far-right terrorists who publish hateful manifestos.

And while terror plots in Singapore and the region continue to be dominated by Islamist threats, Mr Shanmugam noted that the far-right ideology has been “creeping into” Singapore.

“We can only say, thank goodness we are not like many other parts of the world. Otherwise, instead of standing before you and saying that we have detained him, I will be saying, ‘I'm very sorry that this has happened, this is another dastardly attack and people will be putting flowers in memory of those who have been senselessly killed.’”

The groups behind the far-right movement include white supremacists, neo-Nazis and “sovereign citizens” who think they are above the law. It is arguably the oldest and most deadly form of extremism in the United States, with such factions often advocating the use of violence to push their ideology.

Mr Shanmugam referred to the Jan 6 storming of the US Capitol as part of a long battle against far-right ideology around the world and in Singapore.

The violence witnessed in other countries, he said, is why Singapore takes a tough approach towards hate speech. 

“People sometimes say, ‘Why not? Why don't you allow this? Why don't you allow this running down of Muslims or Christians, through heavy metal, through other forms?’ This is why. Hate speech has real-world consequences.” 

LONE ACTOR NOT TIED TO RELIGION

Several religious organisations here, in separate statements, emphasised that the teenage boy’s case was an isolated incident of a misguided lone actor. 

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, likewise urged Singaporeans not to cast any aspersions on any race, religion or group.

“Terrorism is not tied to any religion but happens when individuals adopt extremist ideologies in the name of their religion,” he said in a Facebook post. “Let’s not pass judgement on one another.”

Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said that the incident should be seen as a sobering reminder that anyone is susceptible to online self-radicalisation regardless of their affiliations.

“In Singapore, we have worked hard to build up bonds of trust, respect and understanding. We cannot allow an isolated case of a youth working alone to sow seeds of suspicion and discord in our society.”

Related topics

extremist Mosque Internal Security Act religious groups education Youth

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