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Terrorism threat more severe since 9/11: DPM Teo

SINGAPORE — The terrorism threat has grown more severe since the watershed events of September 11, 2001, especially with groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) widening their reach in radicalising across age, gender and geographical boundaries, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said today (April 16).

DPM Teo Chee Hean speaking at the inaugural East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration, April 16 2015. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong

DPM Teo Chee Hean speaking at the inaugural East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration, April 16 2015. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong

SINGAPORE — The terrorism threat has grown more severe since the 9/11 attacks, especially with groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) widening their reach in radicalising people across age, gender and geographical boundaries, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

In particular, Mr Teo raised his concern that many ISIS fighters continue with the group’s violent agenda even after they return to their homelands.

“They could carry out attacks in their home countries, form their own terrorist group or join local and regional terrorist groups … they could also radicalise and recruit their countrymen to fight in Syria and Iraq, or to join their terrorist network,” said Mr Teo, who was delivering the opening address at the inaugural East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration.

To date, ISIS has drawn from many parts of the world, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, more than 20,000 foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq.

Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, noted that ISIS has been especially successful in spreading its ideology through social media, influencing many people worldwide - in particular, the young - to carry out lone-wolf terrorist attacks in their home countries.

Passive consumers of radical propaganda can become active actors in armed violence in a short span of time, he said. “Being lone wolves, their identities may not be easily uncovered and they can strike at any time, using any means at their disposal.”

ISIS’ savvy use of technology has rendered counter-ideology efforts even more urgent today, said Mr Teo. However, a military-centred response is insufficient. “Traditional security operations disrupt terrorist plots and neutralise terrorist operatives, but terrorist organisations will simply recruit new radicals to replace those taken out of action,” he said, noting that these operations may in fact be used by terrorists to attract sympathisers to their cause. “To counter and contain ISIS, we need to tackle its ideological roots,” Mr Teo added.

Counter-ideology efforts will need to target not just the fighters themselves, but their families, he said, citing “disturbing reports” about how children who have accompanied their parents to fight for ISIS are being “indoctrinated and inducted” by the group.

Countries must also look into re-integrating rehabilitated terrorists into society as part of a holistic effort to neutralise the terrorism threat. He cited the work of Singapore’s Religious Rehabilitation Group, which counsels radicalised individuals and their families, to correct the “erroneous religious teachings” they had imbibed.

The Republic has had a close shave: Singaporean members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group were involved in plotting attacks at Changi Airport and water facilities here. Fortunately, their plans were foiled when they were arrested in December 2001.

The Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) was formed in February 2002. The group provides counselling, financial support and looks for jobs for families of the detainees, who are often sole breadwinners.

ACG chairman Abdul Halim Kader said the lack of trust among family members is one of the greatest challenges that counsellors and social workers in the group face. It takes up to six months for them to build the trust, he said.

Mr Teo said that ACG continues to offer assistance after the detainees are released, until their families are able to cope on their own.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the two-day symposium, Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam emphasised that international cooperation is crucial for counter-terrorism efforts. The extensive participation in the symposium is testament to the fact that countries in the region are seriously confronting the terrorism threat, he said. “(The threat has been) gathering momentum after the latest events in the Middle East… and this conference is (an) example of something that brings together, crystallises and emphasises the importance of working together,” said Mr Shanmugam.

The symposium was attended by 500 people, including academics, security experts and national leaders

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