Friends and family need to be on the lookout against ISIS radicalisation

Family and friends of Singaporean Muslims have a big part to play in thwarting the threat of radicalisation posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) through social media.

So said Madam Nur Azlin Mohamed Yasin, a Counter Terrorism Analyst at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), who monitors social media chatter by ISIS fighters.

"We can monitor only so much," Madam Azlin, 30, told The New Paper.

"The first step in the fight should always be taken by the friends and family who need to be on the lookout for telltale signs of radicalisation.

"They should try to keep track of who their family members are interacting with online."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke on the social media threat of ISIS at the inaugural Singapore Forum on Friday.

He noted that while ISIS is "far away in the Middle East", it is just a click away on the Internet and that the terrorist group has been able to lure thousands of people from all over the world to join their ranks.

They include hundreds of people from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVT) at RSIS, said: "Because of its mastery of social media, ISIS has been able to recruit even educated professionals into its ranks."

Social media has made it easier for it to disseminate propaganda material all over the world and reach out to potential recruits.

Madam Nur Irfani Saripi, 29, an associate research fellow at RSIS, said ISIS' use of English in communication has allowed its ideas to spread far and wide online.

ISIS members also share relatable posts with potential recruits.

"They would talk about marginalisation issues like how they would be stared at when they walk down the streets wearing a hijab," Madam Irfani added.

The social media-savvy fighters use popular tactics like clickbait lists and hashtags on Twitter to promote content.

"Some of the lists that they shared were 10 facts About The Islamic State and 10 facts About The Life Of A Mujahideen That You Probably Didn't Know," said Madam Irfani.

"Information from people who are there makes whatever they say much more relatable."


ISIS members also wage a guerilla war online, opening fresh accounts whenever their older accounts are disabled.

"I have seen fighters declare that they are on their eighth account," said Madam Irfani.

So what can be done to combat it?

Madam Irfani explained that more needs to be done to promote and leverage online voices that talk about a moderate view of Islam to counter ISIS ideology.

But simply providing a counter-ideology online is not enough - it needs to be paired with the right engagement offline.

ISIS' global influence

There are more than 25,000 foreign fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State from over 100 countries fighting for the ISIS, according to experts from the United Nations.

Two Singaporean families are involved in Syria, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said last month.

There are 70 Malaysians and 125 Indonesians reported to be fighting in the region. Here are some of those who have been in the news recently:


The unit is made up of Malay-speaking fighters from South-east Asia who have banded together to form a military unit. Its name in English means the Malay Archipelago unit for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.


This Kuwaiti-born Briton has appeared in several ISIS beheading videos. His real name is Mohammed Emwazi, 27, and he travelled to Syria in 2013, reported the BBC.


Sharmeena Begum, 15, left London to join ISIS last December, reported The Guardian. She was joined by three school friends - Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum (above) - some two months later. They disappeared from their homes and are believed to have travelled to Syria via Turkey.


Australian Jake Bilardi is believed to have died last month after he drove a vehicle laden with explosives into an Iraqi Army outpost.

The 18-year-old left Melbourne last August and flew to Iraq via Turkey.



This article was first published on April 16, 2015.
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