Published: 25 March 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good morning.
1. A very warm welcome to this webinar on Countering Extremist Content, organised by the Singapore Ministry of Home Affairs and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. I am very happy to join you this morning. I am also heartened to see the participation of many experts and practitioners from the government, academia, non-governmental organisations, and the industry in our region. Thank you for joining us today at this webinar to exchange views, best practices, and ideas on this very important topic.
Threat of Terrorism
2. Terrorism remains a serious and persistent threat globally. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains resilient despite its territorial and leadership losses. ISIS and its affiliates continue to recruit, propagandise and fund-raise, especially through social media, and encourage their followers and supporters worldwide to conduct attacks.
3. Within Southeast Asia, ISIS and its affiliates continue to pose the most immediate terrorism threat. Since the first ISIS-linked attack in downtown Jakarta in January 2016, there have been at least 50 ISIS-linked attacks in Indonesia. Since 2013, the Malaysian and Indonesian authorities have arrested over 550 and 1,800 terrorist suspects respectively, many of them ISIS supporters. Despite a drop in the number and scale of terrorist incidents over the last two years due to strong regional counter-terrorism measures, Southeast Asia remains an important part of ISIS’s decentralised “global caliphate”.
4. Besides ISIS, Southeast Asia faces a significant threat from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is aligned to Al-Qaeda. More than 800 JI members have been arrested since the 2002 JI-linked Bali bombings that killed 202 people. There are signs that the JI is rebuilding its network. They are recruiting and training new cadres, with some of them being sent to train with Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria. These developments indicate that the JI has likely retained its capability to conduct terror attacks.
Singapore’s Efforts in Countering Online Radicalisation
5. Singapore is not immune to the threat posed by these global and regional terrorist groups. The JI had previously targeted Singapore, with close to 80 targets being identified for possible attacks. While the Singapore JI has been effectively dismantled by our Internal Security Department, or ISD, in 2001 and 2002, the regional JI network is still active, and becoming more resilient and adaptable in evading detection. Given its ambition of establishing an Islamic State in Southeast Asia through violence, JI will continue to present a security threat to Singapore.
6. The terrorism threat in Singapore currently largely emanates from self-radicalised individuals influenced by radical propaganda and ideologies online. Since 2015, 44 out of the 54 individuals dealt with under Singapore’s Internal Security Act for terrorism-related activities were self-radicalised.
7. For example, in April 2015, a 19-year-old post-secondary student was detained by ISD for making plans to join ISIS after being radicalised by viewing terrorist propaganda online. In fact, he revealed that if he was unable to join ISIS in Syria, he intended to carry out violent attacks in Singapore. More recently, in March 2021, a 20-year-old Singaporean was detained for planning to conduct knife attacks against Jews at a synagogue in Singapore. He also intended to travel to Gaza to join HAMAS’ military wing in its fight against Israel.
8. While Islamist extremism remains our primary security concern, other emergent threats, such as far-right extremism, can propel individuals towards violence. In December 2020, a 16-year-old Singaporean was detained by ISD for planning to conduct terrorist attacks against Muslims at two mosques in Singapore. He was influenced by far-right extremist ideology and wanted to emulate the March 2019 terror attacks in Christchurch.
9. As such, upstream counter-ideology efforts like the promotion of positive counter-narratives and fostering greater understanding and harmony across different religious groups are crucial to prevent radical ideology from taking root in our societies.
10. Singapore’s counter-terrorism strategy focuses on three key areas - firstly, prevention; secondly, protection and preparedness; and thirdly, response and recovery. These efforts range from international and intelligence cooperation, to border control and preparing community response.
11. Singapore invests heavily in upstream counter-ideology efforts to prevent radical extremism, particularly on online platforms, from taking root in our society. We also work closely with community partners and the industry to counter radicalisation.
12. One of our key partners is the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a volunteer group comprising religious teachers and scholars. The RRG is involved in the rehabilitation of radicalised individuals, and they also carry out community engagement programmes to counter radicalisation.
13. While COVID-19 has posed some challenges in terms of physical outreach efforts, the RRG has published more than 60 articles and 30 online lectures, Facebook live postings, Zoom engagements and videos for the Muslim community and public to raise awareness on online radicalisation and threat. Indeed, they have been very played a very important role, and have worked very hard.
14. RRG also launched the Awareness Programme for Youth to engage and give Muslim youths proper guidance in religious knowledge. Infographics and videos were also produced to reach out to youths online.
15. Besides the RRG, there are other non-governmental organisations in Singapore such as Roses of Peace and Hash. Peace that promote social harmony by organising interfaith and interracial activities. These activities impart participants with mindful communication skills that reduces inter-faith misunderstanding and promote inter-faith cooperation. We need to encourage more organisations to support our counter-terrorism efforts, especially in countering radical views and violent extremism, both within their communities and online.
16. Another group of partners that we work closely with is the online industry. In January 2021, we launched the Online Industry Safety and Security Watch Group (iSSWG). The Online iSSWG is a partnership between the Singapore Police Force and the Asia Internet Coalition, comprising leading internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Grab. The Online iSSWG aims to create a safer online community for our people through sharing best practices to developing guidelines, frameworks and industry standards, and also to enhance public awareness on cyber safety. For example, Singapore conducted a webinar following the launch of the Online iSSWG, engaging members of the online industry on various topics including terrorism, radicalisation, the cyber landscape and industry best practices to create a safe online environment.
Singapore’s Efforts in Countering Terrorism Financing
17. The Internet has also made it easier for terrorist groups to raise funds. Countering terrorism financing is a high priority globally. Singapore is committed to combatting terrorism financing and will work with our partners on how to effectively disrupt funds from being transferred to terrorist organisations.
18. In 2020, our agencies conducted a holistic risk assessment to identify our key terrorism financing threats and vulnerability areas. With these findings, we formulated a National Strategy for Countering the Financing of Terrorism. The national strategy maps out Singapore’s approach to address our terrorism financing risks and serves to guide the development of future action plans to prevent, detect and deter terrorism financing. The national strategy will be made available to the public in the coming weeks.
International Cooperation and Sharing of Best Practices
19. Terrorism is a transnational threat. Our law enforcement agencies must work together to prevent, detect, and disrupt terrorist groups and individuals from carrying out acts of terror. In addition, we must share our experiences with each other and with other stakeholders, so that we collectively become more effective in our fight against terrorism.
20. In this regard, Singapore is happy to organise this webinar. We hope that it will be a platform for countries in this region to discuss the threat of online extremist content and radicalisation; share best practices on promoting positive online narratives; and generate insights how we can deal with this threat more effectively.
21. I hope that after today, we will have a better understanding of the work that is being done in the region, create a network of experts, and work closely together to deal with the evolving threats and keep our people safe.
22. I wish all of you a successful webinar and a fruitful discussion.
23. Thank you for having me.