We’ve always praised technology for raising our standard of living—after all, whatever would we do without the internet and social media?
Unfortunately, as the saying goes: there are always two sides to the same coin.
Just like how you would always meet a few Karens in your life, there would always be some people out there who manage to misuse and abuse what should have been a gift.
The internet is always fun—until it becomes a tool for terrorist groups to build their influence.
Terrorism Threat to Singapore Remains High
On Wednesday (23 June), the Internal Security Department (ISD) released a report stating that the terrorism threat to Singapore remains high as terror groups continue to spread their influence online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2021, the ISD noted that while there is presently no specific or credible intelligence pointing to an imminent terrorist attack on Singapore, there had been two averted terrorist attacks by two Singaporean youths who were targeting places of worship here.
The ISD added that these cases underscore the very real threat of lone-wolf attacks by self-radicalised individuals. According to the department, the domestic terrorism threat to Singapore stems primarily from self-radicalised individuals who are influenced by extremist materials online.
The department reported that since 2015, there have been 54 people who were dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related conduct. Of these 54 people, 44 of them—32 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners—were self-radicalised, with 14 of them being dealt with since 2019.
The Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report is meant to alert Singaporeans to the security environment locally and regionally. It is released every two years, and was first published in June 2017.
Pressing Threat from ISIS and its Affiliates
In the previous report released in January 2019, the ISD similarly reported that the terrorist threat to Singapore was high, and noted that the most pressing threat the country faced was from terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its affiliates.
In this year’s report, the ISD report that ISIS and terror cell Al-Qaeda continue to be major threats. These groups have stepped up online efforts to encourage their supporters to stage terror attacks.
“Global terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have proven resilient and adaptable, despite their leadership losses and setbacks in recent years,” said the ISD.
“Amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, they have stepped up their recruitment and propaganda efforts on social media, encouraging their supporters worldwide to conduct attacks,” added the department.
The ISD also said that Jemaah Islamiah, the terrorist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, remains a latent terror threat. According to the ISD, there have been recent signs that the group is rebuilding its military capabilities, and may re-engage in terrorist violence in Indonesia.
Seriously, you think there might be more pressing priorities for everyone right now.
Like, you know, the ongoing worldwide pandemic.
Far-right Extremism Also a Key Concern
While Islamist terrorism remains a key concern, the ISD also noted that far-right extremism is an emerging threat.
According to the ISD, such radical behaviour has emerged as a major concern overseas and in some western countries, and it’s the fastest-growing threat. Far-right radical behaviour promotes racial supremacy, as well as anti-Islam and anti-immigration ideas.
Far-right extremist groups are reportedly becoming more organised—to the point that they are capable of mounting attacks, said the ISD.
Such violence could provoke retaliatory attacks from Islamist terrorist groups, warned the ISD.
In December last year, a 16-year-old Singaporean student was detained under the ISA for planning to attack two mosques and kill worshippers here in Singapore.
Having been influenced by the Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant, the youth made detailed plans and preparations to attack Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang and Yusof Isak Mosque in Woodlands on 15 March this year—the second anniversary of the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand.
According to the ISD, the student was “self-radicalised, motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence. He watched the live-streamed video of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and read the manifesto of the attacker, Brenton Tarrant”
He had been planning on conducting a terrorist attack against the Muslims at the mosques with a machete bought online while live-streaming the entire process. The Secondary 4 student was the youngest person to be detained under the ISA, and the first detainee to be influenced by far-right extremist ideology.
The second potential lone-wolf attack foiled by the ISA involved a 20-year-old national serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
In February this year, 20-year-old Amirull Ali was detained under the ISA for planning a knife attack on three Jewish men after their Saturday congregational prayers at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Waterloo Street.
He had also planned to take up arms abroad, making plans to travel to Gaza and join the military wing of the territory’s ruling faction Hamas in its fight against Israel.
The ISD said that while Singapore has not seen widespread expressions of Islamophobia, and that such cases are generally sporadic and contained, this does not mean that it is immune to them. This is especially so given that Islamophobia rhetoric is prevalent on social media, warned the ISD.
“We have to stay vigilant and take a firm stand against any rhetoric that promotes hatred or animosity towards other communities, and draw the line at the pursuit of any violent action, regardless of how it is justified,” added the ISD.
Events Abroad Can Influence Motivate Individuals to Violence
Events abroad can evoke strong reactions in the public, said the ISD. It warned that Singaporeans are susceptible to being influenced by these developments, which could motivate at-risk individuals in society to violence.
For example, the 20-year-old national serviceman mentioned earlier had been influenced by the Israel-Palestine conflict. Enraged by the conflict, Amirull had assumed that the Jewish men he targeted would have done national service in Israel, and thus would have carried out atrocities against the Palestinians.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has evoked strong reactions in Singapore and other parts of the world, noted the ISD. However, according to the department, reactions to this conflict have largely steered clear of extremist and violent rhetoric—Amirull has been the only exception so far.
In another incident, 37 people in Singapore were investigated for making inflammatory social media postings, among other things, in the aftermath of terror attacks in France and other countries caused by the republication of caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo late last year.
In its report, the ISD ensured that the Government would continue to step up its counter-terrorism capabilities. However, it also stressed to the community the critical role it played in fighting terrorist threats, especially in detecting and foiling lone-wolf attacks by self-radicalised people.
It pointed to anti-terrorism movement SGSecure, saying that it has helped to sensitise, train and mobilise the community in the fight against terror.
This was echoed by Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan, who said on Wednesday said in a Facebook post that authorities may not be able to uncover every radicalised individual. Mr Tan also highlighted the importance of the community’s response in the fight against terror.
“Public vigilance remains key to the detection of self-radicalised individuals. As seen from overseas terrorist incidents and the recent foiled attack plots involving the two self-radicalised Singaporean youths, such attacks are hard to prevent and can happen quickly without much warning,” said the ISD.
Featured Image: Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock.com
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