22 Jan 2019

Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2019

OVERVIEW

1. The terrorism threat to Singapore remains high. The terrorist group ISIS continues to make news globally, with Indonesia suffering its deadliest ISIS-linked attacks in May 2018. While there has been no credible or specific intelligence of an attack being planned against Singapore since the last report, our security agencies continue to maintain high vigilance. Among others, we continue to detect Singaporeans, and foreigners working in Singapore becoming radicalised by terrorist propaganda. The public must continue to stay alert, and be prepared that an attack might one day succeed.

 

REGIONAL THREAT SITUATION REMAINS OF SIGNIFICANT CONCERN

 

2. The most pressing threat to Singapore continues to emanate from ISIS. Even though ISIS has suffered heavy territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, its virulent ideology persists in cyberspace, and continues to attract supporters in Singapore, the region and beyond.

 

3. Other terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda (AQ) are regrouping. In Southeast Asia, there is the possibility that JI, which is aligned with AQ, may resume planning attacks.

 

ISIS-Linked Attacks & Plots in Southeast Asia

 

4. Compared to 2017, ISIS-directed plots in the region have dropped in numbers in 2018 following the deaths of several prominent Syria-based Southeast Asian ISIS militants such as Indonesian Bahrun Naim and Malaysian Muhammad Wanndy bin Mohamed Jedi. However, the threat of ISIS-inspired attacks persists as ISIS-linked groups and sympathisers in the region continue to be active. Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) in Indonesia is one example.

 

5. JAD was responsible for the May 2018 coordinated bombings in Surabaya, which killed 28 people (including the perpetrators). The bombings were the deadliest ISIS-linked attacks in Indonesia thus far, and also marked the first time in Southeast Asia that women and children were used as suicide bombers. According to media reports, there have been 12 other terrorist attacks, and 13 terrorist plots which the Indonesian authorities foiled, in 2018.

 

6. The Malaysian authorities continue to disrupt ISIS-linked plots and attacks.According to media reports, they have disrupted four terrorist plots and arrested more than 80 militants in 2018.In Nov 2018, the Malaysian authorities said they had arrested 44 women since 2013 for their involvement in terrorism-related activities.

 

7. The five-month siege of Marawi City, southern Philippines, which had earlier been seized by pro-ISIS militants, ended in Oct 2017. However, ISIS remains interested in the region. It continues to portray Southeast Asia as part of its “global caliphate”. It has also started to refer to its “East Asia” division (which includes the Southeast Asia region) as the Wilayat Sharq Asiyya (East Asia Province) in its propaganda. Such propaganda could attract foreign pro-ISIS militants to travel to Southeast Asia. ISIS and its supporters continue to produce propaganda in languages such as Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog, to recruit individuals from the region.

 

8. ISIS’ persistent interest in the region raises the threat to Singapore. ISIS supporters may be inspired to mount attacks in various parts of Southeast Asia, including Singapore. Singaporeans may also be radicalised by ISIS’ propaganda and take up arms for ISIS. For instance, Singaporean Imran Kassim, who is currently detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), had intended to join the Marawi City siege in 2017.

 

9. While the region has not yet seen a tide of ISIS fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, this threat could grow. Of the estimated 1,000 Southeast Asians believed to have travelled to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq, a few are known to have returned and plotted attacks in their home countries. One of them is an Indonesian returnee who killed a policeman in Medan, Indonesia in 2017. In Malaysia, authorities disrupted a plot in 2015 by Malaysian returnees to attack police stations and army camps as well as to kidnap then-Prime Minister Najib Razak.

 

10. More Southeast Asian ISIS fighters could seek to return given ISIS’ heavy territorial losses in Syria and Iraq. Trained returnees with operational skills and combat experience would pose a significant threat as they are able to carry out more sophisticated and lethal attacks.

 

11. The release of terrorist prisoners in the region could also worsen the threat.Those who have not been adequately rehabilitated may return to terrorism activities.

 

Renewed Threat of Al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah

 

12. There are signs that AQ and JI have been regrouping and may again launch large-scale attacks. The international focus on countering ISIS has provided AQ with the space to rebuild its capabilities. Recent reports indicate that AQ is reviving its global networks and issuing more propaganda.AQ has also built – through its affiliates – strong bases in areas of conflict and instability, especially in the Middle East and Africa.

 

13. JI has not disavowed the use of armed violence and some JI cells have been procuring arms and weapons. JI members have been joining pro-AQ groups in Syria to acquire combat skills and experience. JI continues to attract supporters in the region. A recent survey by Malaysia-based research firm Merdeka Center found that support for the actions of JI ranged from 9.9% to 18%, based on respondent data from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

 

PERSISTENT TERRORISM THREAT TO SINGAPORE

 

14. Even though there is no credible intelligence, for now, of an attack being planned against Singapore, we cannot rule out the possibility. After all, Singapore was targeted in 2016 by two ISIS-linked plots.

Threat from Home-Grown, Self-Radicalised Lone Actors

 

15. And like in many other countries, Singapore also faces the risk of attacks by individuals who are radicalised by ISIS’ propaganda. Some may heed the call of the group to carry out attacks wherever they are residing.

 

16. In the past two years, eight self-radicalised individuals were dealt with under the ISA.[1] This brings the total number of Singaporeans dealt with under the ISA since 2015 to 22. In contrast, between 2007 and 2014, we dealt with only 11 radicalised Singaporeans under the ISA. Please see Annex A for a breakdown of the figures.

 

17. Not all eight cases were ISIS-related; three were influenced by other terrorist rhetoric and wanted to participate in armed violence in conflict zones in other parts of the world.

 

18. In one case in 2018, the individual did not support ISIS but was deeply influenced by radical teachings he had imbibed online. He sounded out two of his friends on his plan to participate in armed violence overseas but they disagreed with him and tried to dissuade him. His family members who came to know of his intentions also tried to dissuade him.However, he held fast to the belief that he was duty-bound to engage in armed violence in an overseas conflict.Eventually, someone who knew of his plans alerted the authorities. He is currently detained under the ISA.

 

19. The eight cases in the past two years included two women and one youth. The two women were radicalised by individuals they had met online. One is currently detained under the ISA while the other was released from detention and issued with a Suspension Direction. The youth was 19 years old when he was issued with a Restriction Order under the ISA.

 

Singaporeans Engaged in Conflict in Syria and Iraq

 

20. A few radicalised Singaporeans managed to travel to Syria to participate in the conflict there. As mentioned in the last report, two Singaporeans Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali and Maimunah binti Abdul Kadir had travelled there with their families. There are no indications that they intend to return to Singapore.

 

21. Another Singaporean, Megat Shahdan bin Abdul Samad (Megat Shahdan), left Singapore in 2014 to work in the Middle East, where he was believed to have been radicalised. Megat Shahdan subsequently left for Syria to fight alongside ISIS and was featured in two ISIS propaganda videos released in Sep and Dec 2017. In one of the videos, he was featured alongside two other Southeast Asian militants executing three so-called “agents of the crusader coalition”. Based on available information, Megat Shahdan is believed to have been killed.

 

Radicalised Foreigners Residing in Singapore

 

22. We continue to detect radicalisation among foreigners working and living in Singapore.Since 2015, 14 Indonesian domestic workers have been repatriated after they were found to have been radicalised. In 2018, three Malaysian Work Permit holders were arrested for their suspected involvement in terrorism-related activities. One harboured the intention of travelling to Syria or Palestine to participate in the conflict there, while the other two were allegedly involved in a Johor-based ISIS-linked cell that was plotting attacks in Malaysia.All three were repatriated to Malaysia. None of the foreigners investigated had any plans to mount attacks in Singapore.

 

THREAT OUTLOOK

 

23. While there is no credible intelligence of an attack being planned against Singapore at this point in time, our security agencies remain on high alert.

 

24. While ISIS has lost nearly all of the territory it once held, some 20,000 – 30,000 fighters remain in Syria and Iraq, and ISIS’ leadership and organisation have remained cohesive, according to reports.Compounding this, ISIS’ propaganda machinery continues to spread the group’s violent ideology online and via communication applications like Telegram. The reference to an ISIS wilayat in this region also significantly raises the terrorism threat to Singapore, as it would be a rallying call for its supporters in the region, including within Singapore.

 

25. In this regard, radicalised individuals in our midst continue to pose a security concern. The violent and radical ideology of terrorist groups like ISIS, AQ and JI, has proven to be highly resilient and adaptable. The renewed threat posed by AQ and JI are testament to the resilience of their ideology.

 

SGSECURE- A CALL TO ACTION

 

26. Even as the Government has put in place measures to enhance our counter-terrorism ability (see Annex B for details), the authorities will not be able to uncover and prevent every threat. A strong community response is equally critical.

 

27. Since the launch of the SGSecure movement in 2016, the Home Team, together with our partner agencies, has reached out to various members of our community to raise their awareness of the terrorism threat and encourage them to participate in the movement. SGSecure programmes have been introduced in schools, workplaces, neighbourhoods, and community groups, to strengthen individual and institutional preparedness. Through these efforts, the majority of Singaporeans now see themselves playing a role in the fight against terrorism. Most are also more vigilant to suspicious objects and behaviours, and know what to do when they spot potential threats. See Annex C for details on the progress of SGSecure.

 

28. However, it is important for Singaporeans to not become complacent. In a survey on public perception of the terrorism threat (see Appendix for key results of survey), fewer Singaporeans now see the threat as imminent, even though more recognise that Singapore is a target for terrorists.

 

ROLE OF COMMUNITY IN REPORTING SUSPECTED CASES OF RADICALISATION

 

29. Security agencies alone cannot detect every radicalised individual in Singapore.

 

30. The community also plays an important role.Family, friends and colleagues are best placed to notice changes in an individual.Anyone who knows or suspects that a person is radicalised should promptly call the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

 

IMPORTANCE OF EARLY REPORTING

 

31. The time between radicalisation and commission of violence can be very short in some cases. Early reporting allows the authorities to investigate and intervene early to stem the radicalisation, before the individual harms or kills someone.In addition, reporting to the authorities can save these individuals from themselves. Once they commit an act of violence, they will face much more severe penalties, and may even be liable for capital punishment for serious offences.

 

DUE ASSESSMENT OF THREAT POSED BY INDIVIDUALS

 

32. When a report is made, the authorities will carry out checks to ascertain the veracity of the report, including speaking to the informer, if possible.The identity of the informer will be protected.

 

33. In situations where there are no indications of radicalisation, no further action will be taken. Where there is basis to suspect that the person may be radicalised, he or she will be called up for an interview.If the individual is found to be in the nascent stages of radicalisation, he/she may simply be referred for counselling and other mitigating measures, without the need for arrest.

 

34. The authorities will, however, not hesitate to use the ISA to deal with individuals who are deeply radicalised or have engaged in terrorist activities.This includes any person who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence.

 

35. Besides staying vigilant, the community should also take steps to be better prepared for an attack. This includes learning life-saving skills such as First Aid, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, and the use of Automated External Defibrillators. Armed with these skills, individuals can respond more effectively if caught in an emergency.

 

CONCLUSION

 

36. The terrorism threat to Singapore will persist, so long as the violent ideology fuelling the threat continues to find traction. Singaporeans must unequivocally and proactively reject such ideology, as well as exclusivist and segregationist teachings that pre-dispose individuals to radical ideology.

37. Our security agencies will do whatever it takes to keep our country and people safe from terrorist elements.We will not hesitate to take action against any individual propagating pro-violence or segregationist religious teachings, whatever the religion.



List of Annexes

 

Annex A- Chart showing the Number of Restriction and Detention Orders issued against self-radicalised Singaporeans

 

Annex B- Government Efforts to Enhance Counter-Terrorism Capabilities

 

Annex C- SGSecure: Be Prepared, Our Response Matters

 

 

Appendix

 

Factsheet on SGSecure Public Perception Survey findings

Annexes and Appendix PDF



[1]           In 2017, four self-radicalised individuals were issued with Orders of Detention (OD) and one with Restriction Orders (RO) under the ISA.  In 2018, two were issued with OD and one with RO. 

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