Published: 11 August 2018
1. Good morning to all of you, my Parliamentary colleague Amrin, partners of the inter-agency After-Care Group, students. I am happy to be here joining you.
2. We have been working with the After-Care Group for a long time, to try and find ways in which we can deal with this issue - combating terrorism. How we can deal with it. I am very happy that so many of you are here today, which means this message is getting down to the ground, and that students are coming forward to do the projects and that you are thinking about it, what are the issues, how do we deal with it. That is key.
3. What I will do today is outline briefly for you the international situation, then the regional situation, what we are facing in Singapore, because you are the future of Singapore. What does this mean to you? Singapore has got to be set in the context of what is happening in the region, and what is happening in the world, and then what is happening here. And why, and what are we doing about it. Then I will move on to talk about some larger issues. It starts of course, with the Middle East. Most, if not all of you, have heard about ISIS. It was a very different type of terrorist organisation. Unlike the usual terrorist organisations, ISIS had territory. Territory means it had money, it had a lot of resources, and it could use those resources to carry out attacks around the world. They called it the caliphate. But the war has gone badly for them. They have lost most of their territory. But does that mean that terrorism is at an end? No. Because we are dealing with it at two levels. One is the physical fight - the territory that they control. But the second is the battle for the minds. Their speakers, their ideas, what they said, are all online. People look at them - they (ISIS) mislead, they say things that are not true, but not everybody knows that. They read it, they get angry and they say I want to go and fight as well. This is the way they try to recruit more people. So the online fight continues. And ISIS, they have lost territory but they still have the ability to launch attacks. Just last month, they launched many attacks in Southern Syria, and more than 150 people were killed.
4. Now, ISIS has their presence in Europe, presence in Africa, presence in America, and presence in Asia. But you also have Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Al-Qaeda has been active around the world, including Southeast Asia, Indonesia as well as Malaysia. JI is particularly active in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore. I am actually more worried about Al-Qaeda and JI. While the attention has been focused on ISIS, Al-Qaeda and JI have been quietly gathering strength, regrouping, putting out their material, gathering recruits, gathering money for major attacks in due course. Because people are not thinking about Al-Qaeda, but they are there and they have a lot of resources. Al-Qaeda today is said to be bigger, more people, more countries, than they ever were. So we may see large scale attacks fairly soon. That's broadly the international situation. If you look at the region, there have been consistent attacks through 2016, 2017.
5. This year in May, there were a series of attacks in Indonesia. It started with a prison riot. The riot went on for 40 hours. 150 terrorists rioted in the prison. They killed five police officers and it gained a lot of attention, and in a strange way, got more recruits for ISIS and terrorism. Because they said these are heroes, they are fighting, and the message went out - come join the fight.
6. Then on 13 May, there were a series of attacks in Surabaya, 13 May and a few days thereafter. First, you have a family of six. Two parents, four children, aged nine to 19. The boy Firman, 16-year-old, and his 18-year-old brother went for morning prayers in the mosque before the attack. Firman was crying. He didn't want to lose his life. Who wants to die at that age? Your parents tell you to become a suicide bomber; he knew what was going to happen to him. Some of you (in the audience) are 16, 17, 18-year-old. I think it is horrible for parents to be doing this. No religion supports this. There is nothing that is found in Christianity or Islam or Buddhism, that can ever justify this. So it is a mistaken impression.
7. A security guard saw the young boy crying on that day. On the same day, they attacked the church, lots of people died and the entire family died, of course. Separately, in another house, there was a bomb explosion because they were making the bombs and it went off. The wife and the eldest son died. The bomb maker was subsequently killed by the police. They were going to use it for more attacks.
8. The next day, in Surabaya, a third family made an attack on the police HQ in Surabaya. So the attack also took the entire family, except for the youngest child, aged eight. The child survived, but all the other four family members died. Two days after that, the Riau police HQ was attacked. One police officer died. Investigations showed that all these were terrorist cells who were working with each other. They were coordinating and combining.
9. If you compare with previous attacks, previous attacks were once-off, one or two or three chaps ride on a motorcycle and attack. Here, you see sophistication and planning. Three families in Surabaya, terrorist cells in the prison, and in Riau another attack, all coordinated and the families knew each other.
10. For the first time in Southeast Asia, we are seeing women and children being used as human bombs. Up till now, only men but now they are using women and young children and the entire family. So the ability to cause multiple attacks have increased, and they have infiltrated into the minds of families. They were all part of an ISIS network in Surabaya. So it is becoming more and more dangerous. If you look at Malaysia, they are continuing to find more and more terrorist cells. Last month, they arrested seven people who were from ISIS, including a Malaysian who threatened to assassinate the Malaysian Agung, and the senior ministers.
11. In Philippines, there was another attack on another city, trying to repeat the Marawi siege. They tried to take over a town in southern Philippines but that was put down very quickly.
12. Singapore, we have not had an attack. Not because they do not want to but so far it has been difficult for them. So the peace and tranquillity that we enjoy, the ability to take public transport, the ability to go wherever we want, the fact that we do not worry about suicide bombers is not because they do not want to. But because so far, the population, the Government, the security forces work together to keep this up and it is a very hard battle that we have to fight continuously. But we are under threat, you would remember from Batam, they wanted to send rockets over, and ISIS mentioned Singapore many times in its propaganda. If you look at the “ISIS East Asia Division” organisational chart, Singapore is part of its caliphate. We have also been mentioned in a number of videos, including a Singaporean, on the video, asking for jihad in Singapore.
13. I have talked about the international situation; I have talked about the region but what is the situation in Singapore? If you look at the arrests we have been making, the number of people we are dealing with, that we are arresting, is increasing. So if you take 2007 to 2014, that is eight years, we had 11 Singaporeans that we dealt with. But if you look at 2015 to the present, three and a half years, we have arrested or dealt with 20 in just three and a half years. Of this 20, 18 were radicalised online, so that shows you how important it is to make sure your online space is okay. The other thing that is worrying is, in the past, it took about two years for people to get radicalised. But now, sometimes it is two months, three months. They look, they go online, within two to three months, the family does not know, the teachers do not know, the Ustaz does not know, they become radicalised. Sometimes, internationally, it has even been three to four days. That becomes very difficult for the security forces. How would they know? You wake up one morning and say you are going to go out to do something, that is very difficult.
14. For the first time since 2001, in Singapore, we are arresting women. Two were radicalised online by people they met, ISIS propaganda. The third lady was radicalised by her own husband. The fourth lady communicated with foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria.
HOW YOUTHS CAN HELP
15. So we have the situation relatively under control but neither you nor I can say we have won. We have to be on guard and we have to fight back. Fighting back does not just mean the Government. Fighting back essentially has to be you. You have to help in the fight back. First of all, not be radicalised. If you want religious knowledge, go to the mosques, go and speak with your Ustaz, go and speak with religious leaders with knowledge, go to Mendaki and ask for guidance, go to MUIS. You go online, you find lots of things. It sounds very attractive, a lot of it is designed to trap you.
16. The second part is to help. Help in the fight by going online, positively. You have to help, you have to teach your friends, you have to put out the positive messages of peace, universal brotherhood and sisterhood, friendship, living together and working together in a common space. That is extremely important.
17. We on our part have reached out to schools. We have talked to principals, teachers, counsellors, to share our concerns. A lot of the people we pick up are actually identified to us by their own family members. In Singapore, families are prepared to come forward because we tell them, if we do not intervene, that boy or girl may kill himself or go to Syria or Iraq or Philippines. If we intervene, what happens? ISD talks to him or her, we tell them, if you want religious instruction, you can go and see your Ustaz, go and see the Imam, go and speak with the religious organisations and we help them. We do not necessarily detain them. Many are not detained. We guide them. That way, the family gets the son or daughter back. When we have to detain because they have gone too far, it is for their own good. For two years, we try to rehabilitate them. At the end of two years, if they are rehabilitated, they are released. So again, it is better for the family. Whereas if we do not arrest them, we do not know what they are going to do.
18. So these are the ways in which you need to come forward. Each one of you has to look at yourself as fighting for the cause of your religion, helping to put out the true faith and also helping your friends and helping the country. This is extremely important.
19. I also want to talk about one broader issue - the common space. Our approach to multiracialism, multi-religious, multi-lingual society where we respect each other even though we have different religions, different races, different languages, we respect each other but make sure there is a space for all of us. Both the individual space to go out and pray as you wish, live your life but also a common space. Because we cannot be a society if we do not interact with each other. We have to be Singaporeans too. We can be Indian, Malay, Chinese, we can be Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Christian but there is another identity - we are Singaporeans. If we do not mix with each other, that identity is gone. So we need that. We need both identities. The confidence to be ourselves, whether we are Muslim, or Hindu or Christian or whatever religion, or atheist. The confidence to be our race, the confidence to speak our language and the confidence to interact with each other as Singaporeans. If we are not confident and we stay within our own shell, you lose something. Now in this context, it is extremely important that we do not go into the “us versus them” mentality. Which is why in Singapore we take a very strict approach on hate speech. My position is, you want to tell your people to be better Muslims, good. You want to tell your people to be better Christians, good. You want to talk about the glory of your own race or language, how good it is, okay no problem. But the moment you run down somebody else, the moment you say that religion or that race or that language is no good, we come after you. In other countries, freedom of speech allows you to do that. We do not.
20. We have something very precious here. We are a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual society. We live harmoniously. The peace and harmony that we have here and the mutual respect that we have for each other here, is not something you have in many places in the world. We want to continue to preserve it - not just preserve it, we want to strengthen it. We want space for our religion and language, and we also want a common space, a Singaporean identity, where we interact with each other. And your duty is to work to build that. Go against radicalisation, go against extremism, go against anything that prevents integration, and strengthen our integration instead. Reject segregationism. Reject false arguments based on race, or suppression.
21. I was very glad to see the projects. I was very glad to see it and what I saw was inspiring, it’s good. To me, the key thing means you have been sitting down thinking about it and trying your best to come up with it, and the message has gotten through. I wish to thank every one of you and thank the participants and those who did the projects. Thank you very much.