Published: 21 February 2023
1. In December 2022 and January 2023, two self-radicalised Singaporean youths, aged 15 and 16, were issued with an Order of Detention (OD) and Restriction Order (RO) under the Internal Security Act (ISA) respectively.
Detention of Self-Radicalised Singaporean Youth
2. The 15-year-old male Singaporean was a Secondary Three student at the time of his arrest under the ISA in November 2022. Investigations found that he was self-radicalised by online terrorist propaganda, and supportive of Al Qaeda (AQ) and ISIS. He had considered conducting attacks in Singapore, and harboured the desire to establish an Islamic caliphate through violent means. He is the youngest individual to-date dealt with under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.1
3. In early 2022, the youth came across podcasts by foreign segregationist preacher, Ismail Menk,2 while searching for religious content online. He avidly consumed these materials, and subsequently went onto other social media platforms in search of more religious knowledge. He was exposed to violent militant content including ISIS propaganda, and engaged in discussions with foreign personas who influenced him with their extremist beliefs.
4. By mid-2022, he was deeply radicalised, having become convinced that armed violence was permissible against “disbelievers”. In his view, “disbelievers” included Shia and Sufi Muslims, and non-Muslims. He also perceived those who “oppressed” Muslims, enforced secular laws or obstructed the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, as “disbelievers” who should be killed. The youth harboured a strong desire to live in an Islamic caliphate governed by sharia (Islamic law). He had considered travelling to Afghanistan for this purpose but had yet to undertake any preparations at the point of arrest. He was willing to support any group that was seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in Singapore or abroad, including taking the bai’ah (pledge of allegiance) to the group, participating in armed jihad and undertaking any tasks assigned to him, including killing “disbelievers” and conducting suicide operations. He viewed dying as a martyr to be the responsibility of all Muslims.
Support for ISIS and AQ
5. The youth expressed support for ISIS, especially its actions in its early stages in 2014, when it was fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate; he also regarded the group’s killing of Shias and Yazidis as being “justified”. He shared pro-ISIS materials on his social media accounts, and tried unsuccessfully to purchase an ISIS flag on e-commerce platforms in the latter half of 2022.
6. The youth’s support for AQ stemmed from his idolisation of AQ’s deceased founder Osama bin Laden, whom he viewed as a defender of Islam. He believed AQ had defended Muslims from oppression, and regarded the 9/11 attacks as a justified act of retaliation against Americans who had killed “innocent Muslims”. He made online postings expressing his support for AQ by justifying the group’s violent actions.
7. The youth also shared violent AQ and ISIS videos, including beheading videos, with his classmates in an attempt to radicalise them. However, none of his classmates expressed interest in these extremist materials. He also tried unsuccessfully to convince two foreign online contacts to join him in undertaking armed violence.
Desire to Conduct Attacks in Singapore
8. Steeped in the belief that “disbelievers” should be killed, in late 2022, the youth had considered conducting knife attacks to behead non-Muslims in popular tourist areas in Singapore. Apart from knife attacks, he also thought about being a suicide bomber, and fantasised about exploding himself. He said that these thoughts were inspired by ISIS's beheading and suicide bombing videos, which he frequently viewed online. At the point of his arrest, the youth was deeply entrenched in his radical views, but had yet to undertake any steps towards actualising his attack ideations.
Issuance of Restriction Order against Self-Radicalised Singaporean Youth
9. A 16-year-old male Singaporean, a Secondary Four student, was issued with a RO under the ISA in January 2023. Investigations found that the youth had been self-radicalised by online ISIS propaganda, and believed in the use of armed violence to establish an Islamic caliphate.
10. The youth first attracted security notice in November 2020 when he was only 14 years old. ISD’s investigations at the time found that he had an interest in far-right extremist content, including those which were anti-Semitic and supportive of neo-Nazi groups whose ideologies promoted a “race war”. He was also attracted to Islamic eschatological prophecies of the End-of-Times after watching YouTube videos, and had come across ISIS jihadi nasheeds (songs) from online music streaming platforms. The youth was assessed to be vulnerable to radicalisation and was cautioned by ISD to steer clear of extremist content online.
Support for ISIS
11. Despite being warned, the youth continued to imbibe ISIS propaganda and engaged in ISIS-related discussions with other social media users. Over time, he became convinced of ISIS’s legitimacy and supported ISIS’s goal of creating an Islamic caliphate through violence, including through the use of beheadings, shootings, and suicide bombings.
12. The youth joined multiple ISIS-themed servers on online gaming platform Roblox, where the virtual game settings replicated physical ISIS conflict zones, such as those in Syria and Marawi city in southern Philippines. The youth regarded himself as an ISIS member in these games, and had taken the bai’ah to an in-game ‘ISIS leader’. The youth was proud of his roles as the “spokesperson” and “chief propagandist” for his in-game ISIS faction. He said his actions in support of ISIS in Roblox, such as shooting and killing ISIS’s “enemies”, were intended to mimic his desire to be an ISIS member in real life.
13. The youth propagated his support for ISIS by creating and uploading three ISIS propaganda videos onto social media between late 2021 and early 2022. Using his Roblox game footage which showed the virtual ISIS factions conducting attacks, the youth added ISIS nasheeds and superimposed images of an ISIS flag to create the propaganda videos (see Annex).
Sharing of Radical Beliefs & Security Protocols
14. The two youths were online contacts of 18-year-old Singaporean Muhammad Irfan Danyal bin Mohamad Nor (Irfan; aged 18) who was detained under the ISA in December 2022.3 While all three individuals were self-radicalised separately, Irfan and the two youths subsequently became acquainted through the same extremist social media channel. They had not met physically nor discussed plans to travel together.
15. In their private conversations online, they shared their radical beliefs and support for terrorist groups. For example, Irfan shared with the 15-year-old youth about his support for ISIS and his own desire to travel to overseas conflict zones to partake in armed violence. The two youths also shared tips with Irfan on measures to take to conceal radical activities. For example, the 15-year-old youth shared with Irfan a document containing measures to maintain online operational security which he had downloaded from social media. Apart from masking his digital footprint using private web browsers, the 16-year-old youth also used code words in his communications with Irfan and other extremist personas online. Their family members were not aware of their radical views or support for armed violence.
Dangers of Online Radicalisation
16. Extremist and terrorist groups are known to target youths for radicalisation and recruitment online as they may be more impressionable and easily influenced in their search for a sense of identity, purpose and belonging. Terrorist groups have also misused online gaming platforms, for example, by disseminating their ideological beliefs through video games, using in-game communication features to recruit vulnerable gamers, and appropriating gaming culture to increase their reach to younger target audiences.4 The cases involving Irfan and the two youths demonstrate yet again that extremist ideas continue to find resonance among Singaporeans. Since 2015, ISD has dealt with 11 self-radicalised Singaporean youths aged 20 or below under the ISA. All were radicalised online.
17. ISD adopts a comprehensive and holistic approach in the rehabilitation of the detainees and RO supervisees, comprising religious, psychological and social rehabilitation. The Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) are key partners in the rehabilitation programme.
18. For example, all detainees attend religious counselling sessions at least once a month by a religious counsellor from the RRG, where they are provided proper religious teachings and interpretations, to counter the radical ideology they had imbibed from online and other sources. A psychologist will also engage them to address the non-ideological factors that played a role in their radicalisation, such as their propensity for hatred and violence. Each detainee/supervisee is also given social support to aid in their rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into society. For example, detainees are granted weekly family visits, and an aftercare officer is assigned to provide additional social support. The ACG also lends assistance through their community welfare organisations. In addition, regular engagements by ISD case officers provide detainees with another source of social interaction and support.
19. The rehabilitation approach has evolved in tandem with the evolving global terrorism threat landscape, which has seen younger individuals being arrested for terrorism-related activities. With the increase in number of self-radicalised youth cases, ISD has worked with other rehabilitation stakeholders and community partners to strengthen outreach efforts to counter radicalisation upstream and enhance the rehabilitation of the radicalised youths.
20. For example, the 15-year-old detainee will undergo intensive religious counselling with two religious counsellors from the RRG to address the religious misconceptions that led to his support for armed violence and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Apart from undergoing religious counselling by a RRG volunteer, the 16-year-old supervisee will also be participating in programmes conducted by the RRG’s Resource and Counselling Centre to sensitise him to the threat of terrorism and extremism, and deepen his appreciation of Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious context. In addition, ISD case officers will engage the youths regularly to guide them and assess their rehabilitation progress. ISD psychologists will also work with the youths to address the non-ideological factors that had rendered them vulnerable to radical influences, such as their lack of critical thinking in evaluating information that they consumed online, and their permissive attitudes towards violence.
21. Both youths’ families are closely involved in their rehabilitation. In the case of the 16-year-old supervisee, his aftercare officer works with his family to ensure he has the support needed to stay on track with his rehabilitation. He has also been assigned a mentor from the RRG, to serve as a role model and who can impart to him pro-social and cyber-wellness skills. The 15-year-old detainee is allowed regular family visits as the family plays a critical role in providing social support and encouraging detainees to stay focused on their rehabilitation while in detention.
22. ISD has also worked closely with their schools to minimise any disruption to the youths’ education. The 15-year-old has been provided with his school’s curriculum and study materials, to ensure he can continue with his studies whilst in detention. ISD has also assigned him tutors who will prepare him for his national examinations. Apart from being assigned a mentor from the RRG, the 16-year-old supervisee will also be supported by his school principal, school counsellor and form teacher, all of whom will closely monitor his behaviour and progress while in school.
Importance of Vigilance & Early Reporting
23. We must remain vigilant to signs that someone around us may have become radicalised, so that the authorities can intervene early to avert a tragedy. Family members and friends are best placed to notice changes in behaviour among those around them. Possible signs of radicalisation include, but are not limited to, the following:
(a) frequently surfing radical websites;
(b) posting/sharing extremist views on social media platforms, such as expressing
support/admiration for terrorists/terrorist groups as well as the use of violence;
(c) sharing their extremist views with friends and relatives;
(d) making remarks that promote ill-will or hatred towards people of other races or religions;
(e) expressing intent to participate in acts of violence overseas or in Singapore; and/or
(f) inciting others to participate in acts of violence.
24. Anyone who knows or suspects that a person has been radicalised should promptly contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).
Internal Security Department
 Prior to this, a 16-year-old male Singaporean who was detained under the ISA in December 2020 was the youngest to be dealt with under the ISA; he was inspired by far-right extremist ideologies and had planned to conduct knife attacks against Muslims at two mosques in Singapore.
 Ismail Menk is a Zimbabwean Salafi preacher who has been banned from preaching in Singapore since 2015, because of his segregationist teachings, which promote religious disharmony.
 Irfan, a post-secondary student, was self-radicalised by online ISIS propaganda, and had made plans and preparations to undertake armed violence in Singapore and overseas, in support of ISIS.
 For example, ISIS has released propaganda videos which contain scenes that parallel those from popular online video games. Likewise, far-right extremists have repurposed elements from video games to amplify their violence, for example by livestreaming their attacks in the style of first person shooter (FPS) video games, such as in the case of the Christchurch, New Zealand attack and the Halle, Germany attack, in 2019. In January 2023, a 19-year-old British teenager was sentenced to more than 11 years’ imprisonment in UK for posting online videos promoting racist violence, which were linked to two mass killings in the US, including the mass shooting carried out by an 18-year-old self-declared white supremacist at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York in May 2022.
1. Screenshots of ISIS Propaganda Videos Created by the 16-Year-Old Youth Using Roblox Game Footage (PDF, 268 KB)