NEW YORK - Singapore is carefully watching the unfolding crisis in Iraq and Syria for any impact it may have on the Republic's Muslim community, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.
"You may think it's a long way away, but things in the Middle East have a way of sending out long-distance vibrations and reverberations which can affect us in South-east Asia," he told reporters in an interview towards the end of his week-long working visit to the United States.
Iraq is being rocked by an uprising of an extremist Sunni group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is trying to carve out a purist Islamic state across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.
Muslims in Syria are mainly Sunni, as they are in Singapore and Malaysia, while Iraqi Muslims are predominantly Shi'ite.
Noting reports of Malaysians and Indonesians who have gone to join the conflict in Syria, Mr Lee said there is a danger that Singaporeans may also be "led astray".
"I think Singaporeans are also exposed to the same material on the Internet, they may have friends, they may have contacts, and they may also be led astray," he said.
To avoid this outcome, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, or Muis, has issued statements to guide Singaporean Muslims on the right path, Mr Lee said.
"This is not jihad, this is not a religious battle, this is a civil war," he added.
If Iraq becomes destabilised and lawless, the problem "will be magnified considerably", he noted.
"These are very violent environments, people are fighting, killing one another, bombing, committing suicide bombings," he said.
"And if people go there and fight, and after that they come back, some will come back, what happens? They bring back the ideas, the passions, the skills, maybe the equipment, and that's big trouble."
Governments in Europe, the United States and Asia are worried about this happening, Mr Lee added. "It's a problem which we in Singapore should watch carefully too."
This article was first published on June 28, 2014.
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