Miss Cheng Li Hui: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what further measures does the Ministry have in place to boost the security of our public buildings, particularly the schools, against the growing threat of terrorist attacks; (b) how can the risk of self-radicalisation be minimised among our students and school staff; and (c) whether there will be more resources committed to raise racial harmony in the community.
Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in light of the detention of the first female Singaporean for radicalism (a) how can the Home Team enhance its efforts to work with communities in Singapore to reduce the likelihood of Singaporeans becoming radicalised; and (b) whether the government-community partnership can be further strengthened to increase our readiness to stay united should an attack happen on our shores.
Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs if he can give an assessment of the terrorism threat posed by radicalised foreigners in Singapore and what measures are being taken to counter the threat.
Mr. Ang Wei Neng: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and Asia over the last few months, whether the current SGSecure initiatives are sufficient, and (b) whether there are new initiatives to counter copycats of lone-wolf attacks.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what are the Ministry's plans to implement bollards or enhanced barriers especially in town centres and areas with heavy human traffic to prevent terrorist incidents of vehicles ploughing into pedestrian areas; and (b) whether the Ministry will consider funding Town Councils to implement such barriers or bollards in high-risk areas within housing estates.
Madam Speaker, please allow me to take the terrorism-related questions from Miss Cheng Li Hui, Mr Christopher de Souza and Mr Ang Wei Neng together. Mr Zaqy Mohamad also asked a related PQ.
2. The recent spate of terrorist attacks in the UK is another grim reminder of the serious threats of radicalisation and extremism.
Enhancing Security Measures
3. First, the threat to innocent lives. Let us be quite clear. Whether it is an attack by a radicalised Muslim individual, or an attack by an extremist Islamophobe, which happened in London a few weeks ago – all these are terror attacks which have no place in our society or any society. They must be firmly condemned.
4. As seen in the UK, terror attacks can take place anywhere, anytime. How do we completely guard against someone who decides to drive a car into a crowded public area? Or someone who goes on a stabbing rampage with a kitchen knife? These are very difficult security challenges, which we and our counterparts in the world take very seriously. Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Zaqy Mohamad asked about this.
5. MHA, together with several other agencies, are reviewing existing security measures in public spaces, in particular against hostile vehicle attacks. Possible new measures include putting up bollards or security barriers.
6. In evaluating the various options, we will take into account various factors, including:
- Function – how effective will the measures be in addressing the threat;
- Form - how will the measures fit in its surroundings;
- Impact on users – will the measures significantly restrict day-to-day usage of the space.
7. We could try and fortify the entire city. But this is not a sensible or practical approach. We will have to strike a balance between enhancing security which is very important on one hand, and disrupting day-to-day activities through the imposition of curbs and restrictions, which will inconvenience users on the other hand. These security measures will also come at a significant cost to taxpayers. The Government will need to make a practical assessment about the type and extent of measures we put in place to enhance security for Singaporeans.
8. These measures will complement the laws and stakeholder engagement processes that we already have, or will be implementing in the coming months. We amended the Public Order Act in April this year. Organisers of events that attract large crowds, or are of higher-risk, are required to put necessary security measures in place. We will introduce a new Infrastructure Protection Act later this year – to better protect critical infrastructure and large-scale developments.
9. We will continue to work with the public and private sector stakeholders, to enhance the security of buildings and public spaces. An updated version of the Guidelines for Enhancing Building Security in Singapore will be released later this year. Specific to schools, as Ms Cheng has asked, MHA works closely with the Ministry of Education (MOE). We keep MOE informed of the overall security threat climate and risks. Based on this, MOE works with us and reviews and calibrates the security measures for schools.
10. It is important to put in place laws and other security measures to prevent an attack. But this is not sufficient. I now want to focus on the second threat of radicalisation and extremism which is the threat to our social fabric. This is less apparent than any immediate loss of life, but can be greatly damaging to our nation as a whole. Minister (Home Affairs) has spoken at length, on various occasions, about this.
11. Today, I will speak on two specific groups which Miss Cheng Li Hui and Mr Christopher de Souza asked about – a) students and school staff; and b) foreigners.
Preventing Radicalisation/Extremism of Students & Teachers
12. Most of the Singaporeans who have been radicalised were younger than 30. Some were in their teens. They were mainly self-radicalised online. This is not surprising. Our youths consume a lot of information from the internet and social media. Radical preachers and terrorist groups know this. They exploit these media to spread their radical ideologies and terrorist propaganda.
13. Our youth spend a significant proportion of their time in schools and educational institutions. Schools are therefore key platforms for us to counter these dangerous influences. We approach this from multiple aspects:
- First, the school curriculum. Through Social Studies and Character & Citizenship Education lessons, MOE inculcates in our students values about living harmoniously in Singapore's multi-racial and multi-religious society. MHA has also worked with MOE to incorporate counter-terrorism messages into the secondary school curriculum.
- Second, the school environment. Our schools provide a supportive environment for our students to build strong, positive relationships with their peers and teachers, from different races and religions. These social bonds are the strongest counter against any exclusivist or extremist mindset.
- Teachers and counsellors also look out for students who display anti-social behaviour. We do our best to intervene and provide guidance early, to prevent such behaviour from spiralling into more dangerous forms of extremism.
- MHA conducts workshops for teachers and counsellors to sensitise them to the heightened threat environment, as well as increase their understanding of terrorist ideologies and tell-tale signs of radicalisation. They play an important role in identifying students or co-workers who may be radicalised.
14. Even as we put in all these measures, the responsibility of inoculating our young from radical, extremist influences cannot be left to the schools alone. Family members, friends, colleagues, religious leaders and community leaders also play an important role. I will come back to this later in my reply.
Preventing Radicalisation of Foreigners
15. Mr Christopher de Souza asked for an update on the threat by radicalised foreigners in Singapore.
16. In 2015 and 2016, some 40 Bangladeshi nationals in Singapore were found to have been radicalised. They supported the use of violence to pursue their extremist ideology. We repatriated all of them to Bangladesh, except for six who are currently serving prison sentences in Singapore for terrorism financing offences.
17. Since 2015, we also uncovered nine cases of radicalised foreign domestic workers. We updated the House on seven cases in January this year. Since then, another two more have been detected. Similar to the earlier cases, both of them were ISIS supporters, radicalised through social media. One of them intended to travel to Syria with her foreign boyfriend to join ISIS. None of the nine had plans to carry out acts of violence in Singapore. However, we cannot condone support for any radical ideologies in Singapore – whether by locals or foreigners. All nine of them have been repatriated to their home countries.
18. MHA has worked closely with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to address the threat of radicalised foreigner workers. After the arrest of the radicalised Bangladeshi nationals last year, we prepared an advisory for foreign workers. We advised them to be alert, watch out for signs of radicalisation among their co-workers, and to report any possible radicalisation to the authorities.
19. We will do more, to sensitise our foreign workers to Singapore's multi-religious social values. This will take place throughout their time working in Singapore.
20. Upon arrival in Singapore, all foreign workers are required to visit the MOM Services Centre. The Education Gallery in the Centre will display messages that reinforce the dangers of radical ideologies, the need to be vigilant, and to report any suspicious activities or radicalised co-workers.
21. Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) will be required to go through a Settling-In Programme. They will be sensitised to the threat of radicalisation, and made aware that any form of radicalisation will not be condoned in Singapore.
22. In their dormitories, foreign workers will be regularly engaged by agencies such as MOM, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG). They will be advised to call the RRG hotline should they require any advice – for themselves or with regard to someone they know.
23. MUIS is also looking to better manage the religious needs of Muslim foreign workers in Singapore. Foreigners are encouraged to seek religious advice only from ARS-accredited asatizah. They can attend religious classes at our mosques, and will continue to be welcomed and included in activities in the mosques and the broader community. This will strengthen their understanding and appreciation of Singapore's multi-religious social values and norms.
Role of the Community
24. Madam Speaker, on the role of the community, SGSecure is our national movement to mobilise the community in our fight against terror. Mr Ang Wei Neng asked if the current initiatives are sufficient. Miss Cheng Li Hui and Mr Christopher de Souza asked if more can be done.
25. Through SGSecure, public vigilance has increased. The Police have received many reports from members of the public on suspicious circumstances, from 999 calls and also via the SGSecure App. The public is paying closer attention to our surroundings and does not hesitate to make reports to the authorities.
26. The public's response to incidents such as the closures of Hougang and Woodleigh MRT stations in April 2017 was also encouraging. The large majority of Singaporeans understood the potential security threats, and accepted the inconveniences caused as a result. MHA will continue to work towards strengthening community vigilance.
27. However, SGSecure is not just about preventing a terrorist attack. More than that, it is about how we stand united as one Singapore, to help one another, after an attack. At the root of this, is how we strengthen and safeguard our social fabric.
28. MHA will continue to work with agencies like MCCY and the People's Association to implement community programmes. For example, MCCY is establishing the SGSecure Community Network to strengthen partnerships with religious and community organisations, to build greater mutual trust and understanding.
29. The community plays a critical role in strengthening and safeguarding our social fabric.
30. First, the role of family members in safeguarding against radicalisation. We have made this point previously and repeatedly, but it is critical.
31. I talked about the risk of online radicalisation among our youth earlier in the reply. Family members and friends are in the best position to notice signs of radicalisation. If an individual is spending excessive amounts of time on the internet looking at suspicious, potentially radical material; or talks in praise of terrorist groups or about going overseas to take part in armed violence – family members and friends should alert the authorities immediately.
32. This is a very difficult decision for any father, mother, brother or sister to make. However, this must be infinitely better than losing a son or daughter, brother or sister forever, to armed violence overseas or a suicide attack.
33. Second, the role of religious leaders and community leaders in encouraging community integration. Religious and community leaders must step forward to play an active role, through their speech and their deeds.
34. We were heartened to see that the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) wrote a letter to MUIS, in support of our Muslim community – after the detention of Izzah, the radicalised female infant-care assistant, was announced. The letter was made public. NCCS recognised the contributions of the Muslim community to Singapore's progress and the strength of our multi-religious community. It made clear its position that the detention must not be used to stoke the flames of Islamophobia in Singapore.
35. Every religious and community leader has a role to play, within their own communities. We strongly encourage religious leaders to emphasise multi-religious values in their teachings and the importance of the various communities in Singapore interacting, understanding and integrating with each other. Religious leaders can also take the initiative to organise activities with other religious groups. It can be as simple as a visit to a nearby place of worship of another religion to understand them, or sharing a meal with groups from other faiths.
36. Third, the role of the individual in building strong friendships with those of a different race or religion. We made this point when we talked about schools earlier. But it must go beyond the schools. We must make an active effort to make friends with our neighbours and co-workers, exchange greetings and celebrate our respective festivals together. We must safeguard and expand the common space where people from different races and religions can interact. These are the foundations of our social fabric which have brought us to where we are today. We must protect them at all cost.