Terror groups getting creative to entice youth; parents should be on alert: Experts
Terrorist recruiters are getting innovative with the way they spread their propaganda, making young people particularly vulnerable, observed counsellors and religious leaders here.
While technology companies like Google make efforts to remove terror-related material from their platforms such as YouTube, terrorist groups continue to emerge online, especially through encrypted online platforms, forums and video games.
One of the ways the authorities have responded to this threat is through new laws to tackle online harms, including terrorism, which means that social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok can be issued orders to take down egregious content.
But the public, too, has a role to play in staying vigilant to young people falling prey, said radicalisation experts here.
In February, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam revealed a “concerning” trend that nine people below the age of 21 had been dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA) since 2015.
Six were detained, while three were handed restriction orders limiting their movements and online access.
Ustaz Ahmad Saiful Rijal Hassan, an associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said conflicts and perceived injustices abroad can have an influence in Singapore.
“Global issues become local. Misinformation and untruths creep into certain narratives.
“A non-critical and non-discerning individual may get swayed by those narratives,” he said.
Extremist groups are also getting creative with how they disseminate radical propaganda since many terrorist websites and blogs have been taken down, so now they hold conversations and discussions on online platforms including through games, said a volunteer counsellor with the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), Ustazah Nur Irfani Saripi.
The RRG is a voluntary group which consists of Islamic scholars and teachers who counsel those influenced or misguided by radical teachings.
It tries to nip the problem in the bud by inviting teachers and students to its Resource and Counselling Centre to provide guided tours on counter-terrorism efforts in Singapore.
It also goes to schools to give talks and engage with students.
With young people who hold radical views and have been detained, RRG mentor and tutor Salim Nasir said he focuses first on their academics.
“Once they are comfortable with me as a tutor, then I bring in other factors that I think are necessary to give them a greater understanding of how we should behave as a person in Singapore,” he said.
Mr Salim added that this would entail giving them articles or comprehension passages to read that deal with humanity and the value of respecting diversity.
Some tell-tale signs that a young person could be radicalised include a change in attitude and becoming very withdrawn, wanting only to talk about violence and voicing statements of support for certain terrorist groups.
Mr Salim said parents can play their part by being aware of what their children are up to and showing interest in their lives.
“We need to build in our children the skill set to be discerning enough to know what is right and what is wrong, especially in the online world,” he said.
“But parents must be equipped with such skills.
“During this period of adolescence, they are looking for some form of identity.”
He added: “If parents are not a point of reference, then they will look for others.
“And that’s where the scary bit will come in.”