Transcript of Media Doorstop by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, on ISD Case Announcement of Muhammad Irfan Danyal Bin Mohamad Nor

Published: 01 February 2023

1.   Question: Do you have any comments on the recent detention of Muhammad Irfan Danyal Bin Mohamad Nor?

Minister: Irfan is 18 years old. He is a student. The third self-radicalised young person we have detained in the last two years alone. He was radicalised after watching videos online, including videos of foreign preachers and ISIS online propaganda.

He wanted to live in an Islamic caliphate governed by Sharia law. He wanted to fight and die for ISIS. And he started saving, and planned to go once he had saved enough money.

He made plans to declare an ISIS wilayat, caliphate, in Singapore. He chose Coney Island. He made an ISIS flag, he wanted to plant it on Coney Island. He wanted to take a video of him taking the pledge of allegiance to ISIS, wearing his National Cadet Corps (NCC) uniform and an ISIS headband, and carrying a toy rifle.

It might sound a little ridiculous, but some of parts of his plans were serious.

We arrested him four days before he had planned to do this.

He had also thought of three attack plans.

First, to ambush, stab, and kill disbelievers. He said non-Muslims, Shia Muslims, and Sufi Muslims were all considered disbelievers, non-believers. So, anyone one of those that he found, he wanted to kill. He bought a knife to do this.

Second, he wanted to recruit someone to do a suicide bombing at Amoy Quee Camp. He was familiar with that camp, the layout.

And third, he wanted to bomb the Keramat Habib Noh, which is a graveyard attached to Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque. He thought it was un-Islamic – the gravesite – because it was decorated, and it was not at ground-level.

So, he wanted to plant a bomb. He downloaded a manual to make C4 bombs and he wanted to make a bomb, go to the grave and detonate it.

If he had carried out any of these plans, particularly the knife attack or the bombings, you can imagine that it would have been very damaging – a loss of lives, distrust and animosity in our community. So, those are quite serious.

2.   Question: Are we seeing more and more youths like Irfan getting self-radicalised?

Minister: Since 2015 – the last seven years plus – we have dealt with nine young people, aged 20 and below under the Internal Security Act (ISA). So yes, it is a trend that is concerning. The three recent cases that we’ve picked up were all young boys, radicalised online.

3.   Question: Is Irfan remorseful of his actions, and was there a need to detain him?

Minister: At the point of arrest, he was determined to commit violence. He is, in our assessment, likely to have carried out a knife attack at some point, not in the too distant future. We assessed him to be an imminent security threat. That is why he was arrested.

4.   Question: Given his young age, would there be any differences in the rehabilitation programme that he will undergo?

Minister: You know, when we pick up young people, we put a lot of focus on them because we want them to go on and fulfil their potential in life. The idea of detention is not that that’s the end. There is hopefully a beginning of a new path. Also, of course, the primary intention is to prevent them from doing harm to others, but we treat it as an opportunity to try to get them onto a better path.

Irfan, for example, will receive religious counselling, and psychological and social rehabilitation. A religious counsellor from the Religious Rehabilitation Group will counsel Irfan, educate him on Islam.

Family support, of course, is going to be crucial, especially for young detainees. There is an Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG), that will support Irfan’s family, and we will encourage the family to support him.

ISD has also worked with Irfan’s school to arrange for him to continue with his education. He will continue to sit for his exams, while in detention.

He has an RRG volunteer who will act as a mentor, to motivate him in his rehabilitation and guide him to develop pro-social skills.

5.   Question: Minister, may I ask what is the status of the other youths who were dealt with under the ISA?

Minister: Since 2015, as I’ve said, nine young boys, aged 20 and below, have been dealt with under the ISA. Six of them were detained, three were given Restriction Orders, that means they were not detained but certain restrictions on their movements. Most of them have made good progress in their rehabilitation.

I earlier spoke to you about how ISD works with partners to try and help these young people move on – make something of their lives, and move away from violence. Tremendous efforts to reintegrate them back into society. They are supported in education. They are given religious counselling, social, psychological support.

Let me run through the numbers. One was released from detention in January last year, 2022. When he was in detention, he was given tutors, he sat for his GCE N Level exams. He did well. Scored distinctions in some subjects. After he was released, he was able to go to a school of his choice, and he continues to make good progress in his rehabilitation. 

Another four have been reintegrated back into society and are no longer under any kind of internal security order.

They are all either employed, or carrying on with further studies.

Two of them went to ITE after they were released, they did well. One won an award, top performer in his course. Both went on to polytechnic and one is now working as an engineer.

So, these are all, I would consider, lives saved. Apart from the lives that they would have taken if they have continued on their radicalisation journey. Or they would have gone overseas and killed others and probably gotten killed themselves, fighting with ISIS. So, we save them from destroying their lives and other lives and at the same time, make something of their lives.

6.   Question: Minister, we have seen three young people detained since 2020, do you think COVID-19 is a trigger of some sort and if not, what do you think is the trigger?

Minister: I don’t think it is COVID-19 per se. It is the availability of materials online that encourages youth to become radicalised and some young people access it. Look, our community partners, our country does very well compared to other societies. The numbers – we don’t like the numbers. Nine since 2015 but compared to other countries, it is very small.

And what is the reason? Because the Malay Muslim community in Singapore takes a very strong stance against violence. It is very clear about what Islam stands for and the mosques send out the message very clearly. People are able to practice their religion, whether it's Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, any other religion, in an atmosphere of trust and faith and with mutual respect. So, all of these are important. The whole construct of society that supports every group, to be able to practice their religious beliefs, have their lives, carry on and have economic opportunities. All of these are important. I think within Singapore, these things come together in a way that I think allows for most people to be on a path that eschews violence.

7.   Question: Irfan was detained in December 2022. And when did MHA first become aware of his activities and were there any reports made of him?

We don't go into some of these details for operational reasons. But suffice to say, there are different ways in which these things come to our attention. It's also because family or teachers alert us. And the message is actually, as you know from what I said earlier, detention is not the end of the career. When you alert MHA that someone is on this path, you’re actually helping to save his life and make something of him possibly. So they will be able to study and go on rehabilitate. So I think a lot of people understand that and people are willing to come forward and alert us, friends, tutors, school, family, but we also pick up ourselves.

8.   Question: At which point did ISD decide to take action to detain him? Because he started way back. He had planted the flag in August at Coney Island. In October, he started to make plans to travel overseas so, at which point? And why did it take so long?

Minister: Before you detain someone, you make careful assessments of the security threat that person poses. Also, the level of intervention that's needed. When he was assessed to pose an imminent security threat, he had to be detained.

9.   Question: Is it fair to say that he was actually on MHA’s radar even before August?

He was on the radar, I’m not going to tell you when, but he was on the radar.

10.   Question: You mentioned this is the ninth case of young people getting radicalised. Is MHA planning to work with other ministries or parents and schools to stop this even further upstream?

There are two ways in which this question can be addressed. As I said, we don’t like the number nine. At the same time, I think one can legitimately ask, why is it only nine in the context of what is happening elsewhere in the world. Because you would expect a far higher number given the internet penetration in Singapore, given our openness to external influences.

We have done a number of things. Why the number is relatively small? One, as I said, it’s not just what the Government does. It's what the Muslim community has done, what the mosques have done. Generally, I think most people in Singapore understand whatever your religion, you don't go towards a path of violence. You know, religion teaches peace. You can live in harmony. Both social harmony as well as religious harmony is possible. And Singapore is a daily reminder of the benefits of that and the possibilities of that. So, you know, people live in an atmosphere of peace, they live together in estates, which are multiracial, in schools that are multiracial, and our entire system is structured to have everyone trying to achieve their full potential, I think that is by and large accepted, so that reduces people's desire to become radicalised.

Second, as I said, you know, the mosques, the messages they give, the teaching of Islam, churches, the teaching of Christianity, Hinduism, the other religions, what they teach about their respective religions, is generally one of peace, on harmony, on how to live together in a multiracial society. So, all of these things have helped.

I think the main reason why the number is, I would say is actually small, is the community itself. It could have been much more than nine. Then of course, the efforts of MHA. We start young, we block the websites that we think are prone to make people radicalised, but that’s continuously chasing your tail. That's one part.

Second, schools undertake counter radicalisation efforts to educate our young people to the dangers of radicalisation and what the alternate paths are, meaningful activities to channel their energies. All of these help. So, we're not going to be able to stop this. It's a question of how we can try and keep the numbers as low as possible.

11.   Question: Are you concerned that these numbers are merely the tip of the iceberg? And also, there are going to be some laws to tackle online harms. Do you feel that these laws will be enough to deal with the problem of self-radicalisation?

I won’t say that the laws are enough. I think the laws give us some powers. But you know, these things cannot be dealt with by laws alone. By the time the law moves, by the time you detain, the person has already become radicalised. So you do need those powers to prevent further violence. But the interventions have to be very upstream and we do intervene very upstream. But I keep emphasising, it is not just the Government, it’s the community and how the community comes together.

12.   Question: Minister, was there evidence that Irfan had influenced his friends

There is no such evidence at this point.

13.   Question: Minister, understand that Irfan and the other detainee that was placed under detention barely a month ago were influenced by the same extremist preacher. So were there any links between the two cases?

No links as far as we are aware, but these preachers, their teachings are available. And some people go on there, and do get influenced.

14.   Question: How has been the family’s response?

I think they understand and we have explained to them. I think they’re appreciative that Irfan has a good chance of rehabilitating himself, getting through his school, work and then going on to the employment sector.

15.   Question: Can I check how many people are currently detained?

16 are in detention.

16.   Question: Have you been to this Mosque after its redevelopment? Can we have your comments on this please?

I’ve been coming to Khalid Mosque for many years. Chairman Haji Alla’udin Bin Mohamed is a very good friend. I asked him half-jokingly, is this a renovation or re-building? Because the building we are in, of course the mosque, the entire mezzanine floor has been added. Next to it is the new building that has been put up where they will conduct classes, various activities. So whole new building has come up. It's part of the progress of Singapore. It’s an old mosque site, mosque has been here for many years, and it's been rebuilt at a cost of $3 million. This shows the support of the community and partners and the determination of Alla’udin and his team. I think it’s very well done.