S’pore has zero tolerance against those planning to join foreign conflicts, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

S’pore has zero tolerance against those planning to join foreign conflicts

The Republic has a clear zero-tolerance policy against individuals who are thinking of going abroad to fight for any cause, but it will also not barricade itself, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam on Wednesday.

There are legitimate organisations and ways to support various causes that people believe in, “but armed violence is different, unacceptable,” he said.

“What we cannot do is to support terrorism, support armed conflict, plan to kill people.”

Individuals who want to carry out armed violence abroad will be arrested, he added, just like 38-year-old Ministry of Education teacher Mohamed Khairul Riduan Mohamed Sarip, whom the Internal Security Department (ISD) announced on Wednesday had been arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act in October 2022.

Khairul had been influenced by radical videos online, including the teachings of foreign preachers who convinced him to engage in armed jihad. He had planned to travel to Gaza to join Hamas and its military wing and carry out armed combat against the Israel Defence Forces, said ISD.

Speaking to media at the Ministry of Home Affairs headquarters in Novena, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore will take steps against such individuals when they are in the planning stage, unlike other countries who may only do so after their citizens are already involved or have committed attacks.

Singapore also works closely with community partners and organisations to spread the message against terrorism, he added.

“I think that’s one reason why you see far fewer people from Singapore, getting involved with this compared with many other countries,” he said. “But far fewer doesn’t mean zero.”

Asked about a terror threat report that said the easing of Covid-19-related movement restrictions could lead to a resurgence of terrorist activity in the region, Mr Shanmugam said the solution cannot be to turn Singapore into a fortress.

People want to be able to go about their lives feeling secure, but without feeling like they are in a prison, with many restrictions. This is why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and other Home Team agencies have the difficult task balancing the ease of movement in and out of Singapore with maintaining safety and security, he said.

“You cannot become a cantonment and a barricade because somebody from Singapore wants to go abroad to do bad things, or you’re worried that somebody from abroad is going to come to Singapore and do bad things,” said Mr Shanmugam. “We are an international business city; you want to be open for business.”

A recent report by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) said the primary terrorist threat to Singapore still comes from self-radicalised individuals, but that there was evidence of terror groups renewing their outreach to Muslims in Singapore and the region as travel restrictions ease.

“(There is) a lot of assessment of information, assessment of travellers, a lot of intelligence work to see who is coming in, what do we need to do to pick up some who may be potentially troublesome, and also who within Singapore may potentially engage in such activities,” he said.

Mr Shamugam also made clear that the authorities did not detain Khairul for his support of Palestine, but because he planned to carry out armed violence.

He said that there are many causes around the world, including Palestine, that Singaporeans can and do take views on and provide moral, financial and other means of support to advance them.

“There are legitimate organisations that Singaporeans can partner to support these causes all around the world, including the cause of helping Palestinians,” he said.