SINGAPORE - The conflict in Syria now in its third year is a security concern for many countries, including Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Wednesday.
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Here is Mr Teo's speech in Parliament on Wednesday:
The conflict in Syria is into its third year. It is a security concern for many countries, including Singapore.
As many as 12,000 foreigners may already have gone to fight in Syria. This is even more than the number of foreign fighters in the Soviet-Afghan war, and the number is still growing.
Many of the foreigners have joined terrorist groups at the forefront of the violence, such as the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al-Nusra (Al-Nusra Front) and the former Al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has now renamed itself the Islamic State (IS).
The Government knows of a handful of Singaporeans who have gone to Syria to take part in the conflict.
One of them is Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali (Haja), a naturalised Singapore citizen of India origin. He brought his wife and three children then aged between 2 and 11 with him.
Another female Singaporean is believed to have gone to Syria with her foreign husband and two teenaged children. The whole family is taking part in the conflict in various ways, either joining the terrorist groups to fight, or providing aid and support to the fighters.
Several Singaporeans intended to travel to Syria or other conflict zones to engage in the jihadist violence there, but were detected before they could proceed with their plans.
One was Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader (Basheer), the self-radicalised lawyer who was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) from 2007 to 2010. He was re-detained in October 2012 when he was found to have been looking for ways to travel to places like Syria to engage in armed jihad.
Another was Zakaria bin Rosdan, who tried to contact foreign militant groups online in order to join them and engage in the violence in Syria.
A third Singaporean, Khairul Sofri bin Osman, was interested to carry out militant jihad overseas in places like Syria, and had also abetted Zakaria in his plans. Both Zakaria and Khairul were issued with Restriction Orders (RO) under the ISA in December 2013.
There are others who have expressed interest to go Syria to join in the fighting, and are presently under investigation. We have established that they were radicalised by videos, articles and social media postings online. They subscribed to the sectarian-religious or ideological rhetoric that calls for engaging in militant jihad in Syria.
Mdm Speaker, Singapore is concerned about the flow of foreign fighters into Syria for two reasons.
Terrorism threat posed by foreign fighters
First, we are worried about the terrorism threat from these foreign fighters after they leave Syria. There are parallels between the Syrian crisis and the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, which drew in several thousand foreign fighters and led to the creation of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.
Al-Qaeda had, among other things, planned terrorist attacks in Singapore through the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group.
Several Singaporean JI members involved had trained in Afghanistan with Al-Qaeda. JI planned suicide truck bomb attacks against a number of diplomatic missions in Singapore in collaboration with Al-Qaeda. Fortunately, their plans were foiled by ISD's operations in December 2001.
The foreign fighters in Syria may similarly return from the conflict proficient in terrorist skills. They may undertake terrorist activities in their home countries or overseas, or at the very least provide logistical and operational help to terrorists whom they befriended in Syria. This has already happened.
UK and French nationals who returned from fighting in Syria have already targeted Central London and the French Riviera respectively.