Be alert to radicalisation threat: Ministers and MPs

Second Minister for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

A day after it was announced that a 19-year-old student planning to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and carry out attacks here had been detained, several ministers and MPs called on the public to be vigilant to the threat of radicalisation.

It was important to alert the authorities early if they suspect someone they know may be radicalised, before he does harm to himself or to others, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said in a Facebook post. "That's the best way to save them," he added.

Mr Masagos later told The Straits Times the first course of action is not necessarily to detain a person who has been brought to the authorities' attention.

"Many people think that if they bring it up to the authorities, they will just lock them up. No, we will not do that. As far as possible, we will let them meet people with expert knowledge and clarify the doubts sown on the Internet and correct their mindset," he said.

"We want to nip it as early as possible so there's a chance of them coming back to the right path," he added.

In announcing the detention of M. Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i, 19, on Wednesday, the Home Affairs Ministry said he had shared his plans to carry out violent attacks on Singapore soil with several people and tried to recruit them.

Investigations showed that while they did not fall prey to his attempts, they did not alert the authorities about him either, until another person who noticed the changes in Arifil reported him.

But even as some found the fact that Arifil's heinous plans went unreported for some time worrying, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law Hri Kumar Nair saw a silver lining.

"The positive message is that he tried to recruit others and he didn't succeed. It shows that the community is, by and large, sensible and not swayed by propaganda. It shows resilience within the community," he said.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob also agreed that the community plays a key role in countering the threat of extremism.

"All the cases that I have read of radicalised youth everywhere describe how people around them notice that they have changed and know that something is wrong," she said on Facebook. "Family members, friends and Islamic religious teachers play a very important role in helping such youths so that they can be properly guided before they stray too far."

Investigations showed that Arifil's radicalisation began around 2013, after he started viewing terrorist propaganda online. He looked up travel routes to Syria as well as information on making improvised explosive devices.

He also revealed that if he was unable to go to Syria, he planned to attack key facilities and assassinate government leaders here. Should those plans fail, he planned to carry out attacks in public places, such as with knives.

In a Facebook post, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin urged parents to be more aware of the influences their children were being exposed to online, "just as you would not let a stranger into your house to teach your child".

Responding to a comment by a Facebook user, Mr Tan said he suspected ISIS could be "seductive to non-Muslims too, just as there are various causes and cult groups out there who actively try to reach out and recruit".

He also said: "We must strengthen our community resilience so that these influences do not strain our bonds."

This article was first published on May 29, 2015.
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