Efforts to rehabilitate detainees, help families

When Singapore first detained some 30 members of regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah for plotting terror attacks in 2001 and 2002, a group of Islamic religious scholars stepped forward to help set right their misunderstanding of Islamic teachings.

At the same time, several Malay/Muslim community organisations got together to see how they could assist family members who had to cope with the detention of their main breadwinner.

Yesterday, key members of both groups - the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and Inter- Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) - shared their experience of rehabilitating Singapore's terror detainees at a regional summit on how to better counter terrorism.

Their efforts have seen all but nine of the 66 terror detainees arrested since 2001 being released, after they were deemed to have been sufficiently rehabilitated.

But more work lies ahead, as the influence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group continues to grow, and more youth who turn to the Internet get led astray by radicals online.

The plethora of militant voices online means that the RRG has to keep exploring new, pro-active approaches to counter extreme ideas, said RRG vice-chairman Mohamed Ali. Efforts to educate the general public should also be stepped up "as we don't know who is actually infected", he said.

ACG founding member Abdul Halim Kader also said community groups continue to help the families of detainees even after their release.

This goes beyond financial aid and ranges from simple gestures like giving them cookies during Hari Raya to helping them upgrade their skills and find better jobs in the long term, he said.

The top Muslim religious leader, Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, told reporters that religious teachers and the youth can be further empowered to challenge radical views when they encounter them. Dr Fatris also said the energy of youth keen to right "injustice" in conflict areas can be better channelled to positive initiatives such as community projects.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters that supporting the families of detainees can help prevent family members from falling prey to radical ideology, even as religious leaders guide detainees and their families on the right approach to the faith.

This article was first published on April 17, 2015.
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