Community support vital to fight terror threat: PM

Community support vital to fight terror threat: PM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq had seen terrorist elements in South-east Asia regroup and become more active, and it was naive to think that Singapore can keep its head low and the threat will pass.

The Government had to do what was necessary to protect Singapore, he told 300 religious and community leaders of various faiths at the start of a closed-door dialogue on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

Doing the necessary includes getting the support of the community, being vigilant domestically, and "taking swift action to neutralise threats to Singapore, or people who may get themselves in trouble".

Singapore has also contributed to the international effort to tackle the threat at its source, he noted.

"The threat of terrorism can cause doubts and sow divisions among communities, but we have avoided this danger because our people are rational, they have looked at facts squarely and forthrightly condemned extremists," he said.

Similar dialogues, involving briefings by Singapore's security agencies, have been held since the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States and the discovery of a Jemaah Islamiah (JI) cell planning attacks in Singapore later that year.

These sessions cover items that are not made public, but which would help community leaders connect the dots so that they can better understand what was happening and the Government's thinking and actions, Mr Lee said.

The last such dialogue was in 2011, when JI was reviving its regional network. Since then, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been killed and successful counter-terrorism operations have neutralised some groups.

But the threat has worsened recently, Mr Lee added.

Before the dialogue began, he spoke in Malay, Mandarin and English, while Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam spoke in Tamil.

Mr Lee noted that thousands of fighters from across the globe have flocked to join ISIS, including hundreds from South-east Asia. Former JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir has sworn allegiance, and his followers have given funds and support to the group.

Malaysia had last week also put out a White Paper on its strategies to tackle its citizens who return after joining the group.

Several Singaporeans have also become radicalised, with a few who have gone to Syria and Iraq.

The Singapore Armed Forces is joining more than 60 other countries, including Muslim countries, in the coalition fighting against ISIS, sending liaison and planning officers, a tanker aircraft for refuelling and an imagery analysis team.

Mr Lee said he was particularly grateful to the Malay-Muslim community, highlighting the work of the Mufti and the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), who have "done a lot to counter the ideological propaganda of ISIS".

The RRG, made up of Islamic religious leaders who counsel terror detainees, have put out brochures and online videos pointing out fallacies of ISIS' caliphate and why its brutal methods go against Islam.

Muslim groups as well as others like the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, Taoist Federation and Bright Hill Temple have also chipped in to help Syrian refugees.

Also at the dialogue were Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim and Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong.

Mr Teo said in a Facebook post: "Very glad to see the Malay-Muslim community stepping forward to tackle this issue proactively and other communities have shown strong support for their good work."

Mr Lee said: "Eradicating terrorism will be a difficult and long-term fight, and we have to continue doing it. Provided we work together and be open with each other and share and come closer together, we will prevail."

rachelay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 30, 2014.
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