SINGAPORE – A 17-year-old was detained last month for supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, making him the youngest person to be held under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
The secondary school student was first investigated in September 2017 when he was 15 years old, after he posted defaced images of President Halimah Yacob on social media and called on ISIS to behead her, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement on Monday (Feb 10).
Madam Halimah was elected that year as head of state of Singapore, which the student viewed as an “infidel” state.
Commenting on his arrest on Monday, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) categorically debunked the view that Muslims cannot live in a secular country and take up any roles in government or as the head of state.
“The Singapore Muslim community is a clear example of confident Muslims thriving in our secular and multi-religious context and actively contributing to our public institutions and society as a whole,” said Muis.
The boy’s journey to radicalisation began in 2017, when he was introduced to pro-ISIS social media groups by a foreign online contact.
Through these groups, the boy gained access to what he believed was exclusive ISIS content, said MHA.
“In his eyes, ISIS was a powerful group that was fighting for Islam and its use of violence against its opponents was therefore justified.”
After this came to light in 2017, the ministry said it had tried to steer the boy away from the radical path, but he remained a staunch supporter of ISIS.
Due to his age, the MHA had made arrangements for him to undergo religious counselling, while making sure that he does not influence his peers, a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times.
His parents were also informed so they could keep a closer eye on him.
“Unfortunately, instead of seeing this as a second chance to turn his life around, he persisted with viewing pro-ISIS materials online and hid his continued support for ISIS from those trying to help him,” said the MHA spokesman.
The boy continued to believe in ISIS, even with the demise of the terrorist group’s so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and was willing to assist ISIS in its online propaganda efforts.
He was also willing to undertake other activities if called upon by ISIS to do so, the ministry added.
It noted, however, that there were no signs that he had spread his pro-ISIS views to others around him.
The MHA spokesman said while other options were considered before he was detained, such as placing him on a restriction order, “after a careful and holistic assessment, it was decided that this would not be in the public’s interest, or his interest”.
While under detention, he will be put through a holistic rehabilitation programme including religious counselling by the Religious Rehabilitation Group and also psychological counselling, said the MHA spokesman.
At the same time, he will be granted family visits and arrangements will also be made to allow him to continue with his studies so that he can prepare for the national examinations while he is in detention, the spokesman added.
The Inter-Agency Aftercare Group will also work with his family to ensure they get social and financial support, so as to create a conducive environment for his eventual reintegration when he is released, the spokesman said.
In addition, he has also been assigned a mentor who will help to motivate him to focus on his rehabilitation, studies and family, and also guide him to develop life skills, among other things.
The MHA spokesman said there is no minimum age for a person to be dealt with under the ISA, and two other 17-year-olds had been placed on restriction orders over terrorism related activities in recent years.
He added: “The decision to use the ISA against young persons is never taken lightly. This is why, in 2017 other efforts were undertaken to try and steer him away from his radical path, but these were ultimately not successful.”
Muis said the boy’s case underscored the importance of ensuring that young Muslims in Singapore have credible religious teachers to learn from and also a strong support network of family, teachers and friends they can turn to.
Having such a network and a strong religious foundation could mitigate the danger of young people being influenced by online predators who want to use them for their perverted ends, added Muis.
It also said that Islamic education in Singapore’s religious schools is age-appropriate and tailored for the Singapore context and is also taught by trained and certified teachers.
“Muis would like to urge the community to step up efforts to take care of and guide our young in their formative years and help them develop a strong and positive foundation of knowledge and values,” the council added.
Said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin in a Facebook post: “I feel sad for this young, impressionable boy. He was gullible and terribly misled…He was manipulated, preyed on by overseas extremist influences.”
He urged parents to monitor what their children are viewing online and who they befriend.
Mr Amrin also called on Muslims to “fight for what we believe – a just, peaceful and harmonious society for all regardless of religion”.
Separately, the MHA also announced the release of Mr Abu Thalha Samad from detention.
The former member of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah was released when his detention order expired in September last year, after he had shown good progress in his rehabilitation and was assessed to no longer pose a security threat requiring preventive detention, said the MHA.
He has been placed on a restriction order, which means he may not change jobs, move homes, or travel out of Singapore without official approval, among other things.