How one worker learnt of friend's arrest

How one worker learnt of friend's arrest

One morning in November last year, a Bangladeshi construction worker here received a call from his friend's brother.

"I could barely make out what he was saying. He sounded very scared," said the worker, who gave his name only as Mahbub.

After calming the man down, Mr Mahbub learnt that a group of people had picked up his friend - Hossen Md Akram - from the shophouse in Desker Road where he was staying. No one knew who they were.

"I tried calling Akram but he did not answer," said Mr Mahbub, 28.

A week went by. Akram's brother, who was newly arrived in Singapore and also a construction worker, was getting frantic.

Frustrated, Mr Mahbub lodged a report about his missing friend at a police station. That was when worry gave way to shock.

A senior officer advised him to have a word with Akram's boss.

The boss said "Akram was caught by police but not the ones we always see", Mr Mahbub said. He was also told that Akram would be sent back to Bangladesh.

He told Akram's brother what he had learnt. The man was relieved, but the saga was not over.

Last month, Mr Mahbub found out that Akram had been arrested in Dhaka as soon as his flight landed in Bangladesh.

Akram's family was not allowed to meet him, and he is still in jail.

Yesterday, Akram, 32, was named as one of 27 Bangladeshi workers who had been arrested in Singapore between November and last month under the Internal Security Act.

They were planning terror attacks back home. All of them had their work permits cancelled and 26 have since been repatriated.

Mr Mahbub still cannot get over the shock of learning that Akram had become radicalised.


The two men, who are from the same village in Bangladesh, came to Singapore six years ago.

He said he had no idea when radical thoughts took root in his friend's mind.

"Akram would go to the mosque on Sundays," he said.

Other Bangladeshi nationals told The Straits Times that they were aware of extremist groups back home, but did not expect to find them in "safe and secure" Singapore.

Mr Abdul Khaeer Mohammed Mohsin, 53, editor of the Banglar Kantha, a Bengali newspaper here, said he had heard of "disappearing" workers last month.

He ran a report in this month's issue of the paper about workers being deported for alleged extremist behaviour.

"It's a shameful situation," he said. "They are here to work, not engage in political or extremist activities."

Workers said they hoped Singaporeans would not judge their community by the actions of these 27 men.

Construction worker Nurzzaman, 32, said: "It's a very, very small group... Most of us don't agree with them. Our country is not (extremist)."

This article was first published on January 21, 2016.
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