16 Feb 2021

Oral Reply to PQs on the Detention of a 16-year-old Singaporean who Planned and Prepared to Conduct Terrorist Attacks in Singapore, by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Questions:

Mr Christopher De Souza:
To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in light of the recent detention of a 16-year-old Singaporean who planned and prepared to conduct terrorist attacks against Muslims in Singapore, what further legal tools should be put in place to bolster and support the Home Team’s operational capability to detect, trace and apprehend self-radicalised terror suspects before any terror incident occurs.


Mr Christopher De Souza: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs what further measures can be undertaken to denounce terror attacks, whenever they take place around the globe, so as to prevent self-radicalised copy-cats from thinking they can replicate such horrific terror attacks in Singapore.


Mr Christopher De Souza: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs what legal measures can be undertaken to tighten up the Arms and Explosives Act (Chapter 13), or other relevant legislation, so as to prevent self-radicalised members of the public from getting their hands on firearms or explosives to carry out terror attacks in Singapore.


Mr Desmond Choo: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in view of the recent detention of a teenager who was preparing to conduct terrorist activities in Singapore (a) whether the investigations are conclusive that he was operating as a “lone wolf”; (b) what are the current efforts to promote a better understanding of race and racial issues amongst younger Singaporeans; and (c) what further efforts are needed within the schools and youth groups.


Mr Desmond Choo: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs what are the current safeguards on younger residents getting access to offensive weapons or components and materials on online e-commerce platforms.


Mr Murali Pillai: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs what are the facts and circumstances that led to the detention of a 16-year-old Singaporean on the grounds that he planned to use a machete to attack Muslims at two local mosques during the 2nd anniversary of the 2019 attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.


Mr Lim Biow Chuan: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what actions will be taken to improve harmonious relationships between different religious groups; and (b) whether the different religious organisations can be equipped with knowledge to look out for members who may become self-radicalised.


Mr Murali Pillai: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs what steps have been identified by the Government to counter the trend of persons being self-radicalised through the Internet into inciting violence against persons from different religious groups.


Answer:

  1. Mr Speaker, please allow me to take together, the eight questions on the recent arrest of the 16-year-old self-radicalised Singaporean, and measures against extremism and radicalisation, from Mr Christopher De Souza, Mr Desmond Choo, Mr Murali Pillai, and Mr Lim Biow Chuan.

  2. Mr Murali asked for the facts and circumstances of the case, and Mr Choo asked if investigations were conclusive that he had operated as a “lone wolf”.

  3. The 16-year-old Singaporean was arrested in December 2020. He had made detailed plans and preparations to attack Muslims at two mosques using a machete. He is the first detainee to be inspired by far-right ideology and is the youngest individual dealt with to-date under the ISA for terrorism-related activities. He was self-radicalised, motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence. He was inspired by Brenton Tarrant, who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in Mar 2019. The 16-year-old Singaporean watched the video of Tarrant’s attack against the two mosques, and read Tarrant’s manifesto. He also watched propaganda videos produced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-Muslims.

  4. He had planned to carry out attacks on 15 March 2021, the second anniversary of the Christchurch attacks, at Assyafaah Mosque and Yusof Ishak Mosque, near his home. To prepare for this, he conducted online reconnaissance and research on both mosques; devised a plan to procure a vehicle to use during the attack; bought a tactical vest from an online platform which he intended to adorn with right-wing extremist symbols and strap on his mobile device to livestream the attack; watched videos to learn how to wield a machete to inflict fatal wounds; and intended to purchase one from an online marketplace. He also wrote two documents which he intended to disseminate prior to his attacks. Both documents expressed his misguided hatred towards Islam, as well as support for the Christchurch attacks and far-right ideology.

  5. ISD’s investigations found that he was operating alone. There was no indication that he had tried to involve others in his plans.

  6. The case shows clearly that violent impulses are not restricted to any particular racial or religious group. People who have been exposed to hate speech can become influenced by it. The 16-year-old youth will undergo psychological and religious counselling to correct his radical ideology and address his propensity for violence. We hope that he will respond positively, and will be successfully rehabilitated, so that he can carry on with his life.

  7. Mr De Souza, Mr Choo, Mr Lim and Mr Murali asked about our counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts.

  8. Singapore has been strengthening our laws and building resilience against terrorism.

  9. For example, the updated Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act came into force in Apr 2019. Key changes included expanding the prohibition on financing terrorism activities to include terrorism training, and increasing penalties for failing to disclose information relating to terrorism financing to the authorities.

  10. The detection and arrest of the 16-year-old Singaporean underscores the continued importance of the Internal Security Act, to enable the authorities to act pre-emptively before attacks happen, thus preventing injury, loss of life and damage to our communal harmony.

  11. With regard to offensive weapons and firearms, we exercise tight controls under our laws, and these apply regardless of the modality of sales, be it through physical retail stores or online e-commerce platforms. The Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Act was passed by Parliament in January this year. And it replaced the Arms and Explosives Act and strengthened our regulatory and enforcement regime.

  12. We agree with Mr De Souza that it is important for Singapore to denounce terror attacks whenever they happen, to send a clear message about where we stand as a people on this.

    a.     The Government has publicly condemned overseas terrorist attacks.

    b.     We are also fortunate to have support of our religious leaders, who have been proactive in publicly condemning terror attacks, and reminding their followers to stay calm and not react to expressions of extreme sentiments and acts of violence in the name of religion.

  13. For example, in the wake of Christchurch shootings in March 2019, various faith groups issued statements to denounce the shooter’s actions and call for Singaporeans to remain united and reject extremist ideas. Various ground-up interfaith initiatives were also organised, including a youth forum and a remembrance ceremony.

  14. More recently, following the arrest of the 16-year-old youth, our local Christian and Muslim religious leaders met to reaffirm the mutual trust between both communities and condemn the teenager’s plot to attack the two mosques. The leaders of other religious communities echoed the call for Singaporeans to rally together in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

  15. Mr Lim asked how we can improve relations between different religious groups. By showing their solidarity against violence, and engaging in regular interactions, activities and communal projects, our religious groups have maintained and strengthened harmonious relations, even in the wake of incidents that threaten to undermine our social cohesion.

  16. Such efforts are also important in sending a clear signal that our local religious communities stand firmly against radical ideologies and any copycat attacks will not find traction or support here.

  17. Mr Lim, Mr Choo and Mr Murali asked about our efforts on educating religious groups, youths and general public on countering radicalization, and deepening students’ understanding of racial and religious issues.

  18. The SGSecure movement is a call to action to Singaporeans to unite and prepare for the threat of a terrorist attack. We have been reaching out to different groups in the community, including religious organisations, to raise awareness of overseas and local threats of terrorism and radicalisation. We conduct programmes such as interfaith dialogues and activities, and visits to the Harmony in Diversity Gallery, to sensitise the public to cultural and religious nuances and sensitivities, as well as to deepen mutual respect and understanding among our different races and religions.

  19. We have been sharing with the public how to detect early signs of radicalisation, such as displaying a keen interest in people with extremist views, supporting the use of violence as a solution to achieve one’s agenda, and expressing low tolerance and resentment towards multi-racial and multi-religious living. We urge the community to stay alert and to inform the authorities of suspected cases of radicalisation, so that we can intervene early and prevent such persons from harming themselves and others.

  20. Mr Choo asked us what more we can do in schools. We have been working closely with MOE to engage younger Singaporeans on SGSecure. All schools have a framework to drive SGSecure initiatives, which is overseen by school leaders. Age-appropriate SGSecure content is incorporated into story books and card games for students, as well as assembly talks and mobile exhibitions by Home Team agencies.

  21. ISD has been working with schools, institutes of higher learning, and community organisations to conduct counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation outreach activities for students, youths, and educators since 2007.  These include workshops, talks and seminars.  With COVID-19 pandemic, ISD has leveraged online platforms for its outreach efforts.  For example, ISD conducted webinars for educators in institutes of higher learning last year.

  22. Workshops for school counsellors have been conducted since 2016, to sensitise them to the terror and radicalisation threat. As of 2019, over 260 School Counsellors in secondary schools, as well as a number of Student Welfare Officers, have attended the workshops. Each workshop includes a visit to the ISD Heritage Centre to sensitise them to security threats, as well as a one-day training session which provides them with a better understanding of the radicalisation process and factors, especially among youths; the behavioural indicators to look out for; and the intervention measures they can take. Teachers are encouraged to watch out for early signs of possible radicalisation, such as the avid consumption of radical materials, or expressions of support for terror entities and causes.

  23. Community partners such as the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group also conduct counter-ideology outreach activities targeted at students and youths. For example, the RRG has been working with schools to organise assembly talks, workshops, as well as learning journeys to the RRG Resource and Counselling Centre. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the RRG has intensified its digital outreach efforts. It produced over 60 online lectures, ‘live’ postings, online engagements and videos for the community, including for youths.

  24. The RRG has also reached out to various inter-faith and religious groups. For example, in February 2020, the RRG, together with the Geylang Serai Inter-Racial Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC), organised a forum entitled “Harmony Amidst Crisis” to show the solidarity of Singaporeans. Leaders from the various faiths came together to observe a minute of silence for those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and also to start the campaign #outbreak_never_break_us. The forum featured speakers who touched on the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, the threat of radicalisation and how extremists have been leveraging the pandemic in their recruitment efforts.

  25. Within the classroom, topics on multi-racialism and the importance of racial harmony are taught in subjects like Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), History and Social Studies. In secondary-school Social Studies, students examine the impact of racial and religious prejudice and misconceptions on people and society; explore the roles played by individuals and groups in strengthening interactions between different races; and consider how they can play their part to promote social cohesion. As part of the refreshed CCE curriculum, secondary school teachers will receive specialised training to facilitate discussions on contemporary issues, such as race and religion, to hone students’ perspective-taking skills as well as engender a sense of empathy and respect. All schools will also establish a peer support structure by 2022, where students will learn to support each other and be taught upstanding behaviour, speaking up for their peers where necessary, including in instances of racism and hate speech. These social bonds are the strongest counter possible against the spread of exclusivist and extremist ideologies.

  26. Outside of the classroom, there have also been efforts to encourage inter-racial and inter-religious dialogue. For example, the Regardless of Race dialogue series organised by OnePeople.sg, and supported by MCCY, provides a platform for conversations on sentiments, issues, and norms pertaining to race. Since 2019, five sessions have been organised, involving a total of more than 500 participants. Another community-driven initiative to provide more safe spaces for open conversations on religious issues is the “Ask Me Anything” series facilitated by a non-governmental organisation, the WhiteHatters Ltd.

  27. MCCY organised a Hackathon for Social Cohesion in November and December 2020, where more than 200 youths were invited to pitch innovative ideas on strengthening social cohesion and implement projects that promote social, racial and religious harmony.

  28. Mr Speaker, a cohesive and united society is the best defence against terrorism and radicalisation. We will continue to strengthen our efforts to build a resilient community that is prepared for a terrorist attack in Singapore, and plays an active part to safeguard Singapore’s unity in the face of this threat.    
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