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PM Lee urges Muslims to help fight extremism and self-radicalism

Call follows ISA detention of an auxiliary policeman, restriction order on another

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the Muslim community in Singapore to "stand together and shoulder to shoulder" with the government in the ongoing effort to tackle the problem of extremism and self-radicalism.


PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the Muslim community in Singapore to "stand together and shoulder to shoulder" with the government in the ongoing effort to tackle the problem of extremism and self-radicalism.

He acknowledged that the three latest detentions under the Internal Security Act (ISA) - two of them were auxiliary police officers and were arrested in May - have shocked the community, leaving it concerned and uncertain about what to do.

"The government does not want the Muslim community to be viewed with distrust by others. We know that the Muslim community in Singapore condemns terrorist ideology," he said at an iftar session held at Tanglin Police Division on Tuesday evening.

He urged the community to inform the police, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, or the Religious Rehabilitation Group if they suspect any of their friends and family members have been led astray.

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"Let us work closely together, strengthen our inter-racial bonds, protect one another," he told some 200 officers after breaking fast with them.

Mr Lee's comments came just a few hours after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced that two Singaporean men, both of them auxiliary police officers, were issued with orders under the ISA earlier this month.

Muhammad Khairul bin Mohamed, 24, was issued with a detention order for his intention to undertake armed violence in Syria.

His colleague at private security firm Aetos, 36-year-old Mohamad Rizal bin Wahid, was issued with a restriction order for supporting Khairul's intentions.

In a statement, MHA said that Khairul was arrested in May and was working as an auxiliary police officer deployed to the Aetos Traffic Enforcement Division at Woodlands Checkpoint as an outrider. His duties did not require him to be armed.

He was radicalised and planned to undertake armed violence in Syria. The ministry said his path to radicalism started in 2012 when he took to the Internet to learn more about the conflict in Syria after reading about it in mainstream media reports.

He later developed the view that the conflict was a sectarian struggle between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. Being a Sunni Muslim, Khairul wanted to fight against the Shi'ites in Syria by joining the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

This army is a group founded by defectors of the Syrian Armed Forces whose aim is to use armed violence to overthrow the Syrian government led by President Bashar Al-Assad.

MHA said that Khairul perceived the Syrian conflict to be a "holy war" in which he was prepared to die in battle as a "martyr" and receive divine rewards.

In 2014, he made use of Facebook to try to reach out to a foreign militant, as well as two other people whom he believed to be FSA supporters, to find out how to get to Syria.

"At the point of his arrest, Khairul was still interested to join FSA or any other militant group operating in Syria and engage in armed violence there. His readiness and proclivity to resort to violence in pursuit of a religious cause makes him a security threat to Singapore," the ministry said.

As for Rizal, he was also arrested in May 2017. At that time, he was deployed at the Woodlands Checkpoint as an armed officer conducting general security duties.

MHA noted that he was, since 2015, aware of Khairul's intentions to go to Syria as the latter had repeatedly confided in him.

Rizal, however, did not alert the authorities or Aetos management, and instead suggested to Khairul various ways to get to Syria and die there as a martyr.

"Rizal did not share Khairul's desire to participate in armed violence. However, as an auxiliary police officer, he should have been aware of the prevailing terrorism threat and his failure to dissuade Khairul and report him to a superior officer was a serious lapse of judgment," MHA said.

Now that he is under a restriction order, Rizal has to abide by several rules. For instance, he is not allowed to change his residence or job, or travel abroad, without the prior approval of the Internal Security Department director.

This latest round of arrests was made public a week after MHA revealed that a 22-year-old woman, infant-care assistant Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, was detained for radicalism under the ISA.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam noted that while there have been a few arrests of late, these are still regarded as "isolated incidents" in the overall scheme of things.

He felt it would be "very wrong" for employers to start vetting Muslim employees or job applicants in a different way, because it would have an opposite effect of what they want.

As for Khairul in particular, Mr Shanmugam said he was vetted by the authorities when he joined Aetos in 2015 but there were no obvious signs and it would have been difficult to detect any at the time.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim described the two new cases of self-radicalisation as a "grim reminder" for the Muslim community that the young needs urgent help and assistance.

"Without a strong and anchored religious foundation, the allure of false, extremist ideologies may become too great as individuals seek answers to their own personal challenges," he said.

The MHA reiterated its point that those who are aware of a family member or friend who has become involved in terrorism-related activities should contact the Internal Security Department at 1800-2626-473.

All about Aetos

AETOS Holdings is one of three licensed auxiliary police organisations in Singapore. It provides integrated safety and security solutions to businesses and government agencies.

The company was set up in 2004, after the merger of the auxiliary police forces of PSA Corporation, Singapore Technologies Kinetics, and Changi International Airport Services.

Aetos has about 2,900 officers on its payroll. It has provided security for the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown, the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix and the 2015 SEA Games, among other major events.

Last October, urban development group Surbana Jurong announced it had bought Aetos from investment firm Temasek Holdings.

Like other private security firms in Singapore, Aetos has found it difficult to recruit enough Singaporeans to fill its positions, and has turned to Malaysia and Taiwan to hire more officers.

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