4 Singaporeans dealt with under ISA for involvement in armed violence abroad
S'pore man placed under ISA restriction order for intending to undertake overseas armed conflict
He is a Singaporean with no ethnic, religious or ideological affiliation with the Kurds.
Yet, when Wang Yuandongyi, 23, learnt from the Internet last November how the Kurds in Syria were facing attacks from terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he felt he had to fight for them.
Two months later, he was stopped when he left Singapore to make his way to Syria.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced this in a statement on his arrest yesterday.
Wang has been placed on a restriction order under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for two years with effect from this month.
A person issued with a restriction order must abide by several conditions and restrictions.
For example, he is not allowed to change his residence or employment, or travel out of Singapore without approval from the Director of the Internal Security Department (ISD).
He also cannot issue public statements, address public meetings or print, distribute, contribute to any publication, hold office in or be a member of any organisation, association or group without the approval of the ISD Director.
Wang is a naturalised Singapore citizen. He arrived from China as a child and was educated here.
He has completed his national service.
He is the first ethnic Chinese to be placed under a restriction order for intending to undertake overseas armed conflict.
Also on restriction order from this month is Mohamed Mohideen Mohamed Jais, 25.
Two others, Mohammad Razif Yahya, 27, and Amiruddin Sawir, 53, were detained under the ISA last August for voluntarily taking up arms and participating in the sectarian conflict in Yemen. (See report at right.)
After learning about the plight of the Kurds in Syria from online newsfeeds, Wang got in touch with a Kurdish militia group online last December to express his interest in joining its fight against ISIS.
Investigations found that Wang was also looking to escape from personal setbacks - he was in debt from a failed business venture.
He left Singapore in January for a third country, which MHA did not reveal, and was supposed to have travelled from there to Turkey and then Syria.
He took with him some Singapore Armed Forces-issued military gear like his uniform, which he planned to wear on the battlefield.
But his plans were impeded when someone aware of Wang's intentions reported him.
At Singapore's request, Wang was located by the authorities in the third country and turned back to Singapore where he was arrested under ISA and placed on restriction order.
Psychiatrist Adrian Wang thinks this is more a case of self-radicalisation. "It's too extreme to be empathy," he added.
Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a research fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, called it "self-radicalisation of an unorthodox kind".
"He was seduced by the propaganda put out by the Kurdish militia to combat ISIS," said Dr Mustafa, adding that it is plausible that it could be a suicide mission.
"He was looking for an escape route of a meaningful sense from his financial difficulties and thus the choice to fight ISIS could be viewed in this regard.
"Had Singapore not taken any action such as nabbing him in time, it could give the impression that the Republic has taken sides in a raging conflict.
"As a result, on the one hand, Singapore could be more of a target for ISIS, while on the other, Singapore's relations with Turkey could be affected given the Kurdish factor."
Associate Professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University said: "It is not that we are unsympathetic or blind to the Kurdish cause, but it's how we lend our support.
"There are legitimate and legal ways, and violence is not the answer.
"The national security concern lies in the person's desire to engage in an armed conflict for a cause and if the cause requires violence to be carried here or abroad, that's a threat that has to be taken seriously.
"We have a robust reputation for the way we take our duty as a responsible citizen in the global community of nations.
"We certainly see it as an integral part of our responsibility to prevent our citizens from engaging in violent extremism here and abroad."
Singapore men carried arms in Yemen
They took up arms and fought in the conflict in Yemen.
For that, Mohammad Razif Yahya, 27, and Amiruddin Sawir, 53, were detained last Augustunder the Internal Security Act.
A third man, Mohamed Mohideen Mohamed Jais, 25, was issued with a restriction order that limits his activities from this month.
In a statement to the media yesterday, the Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) said Razif and Amiruddin started religious studies in an institution in Yemen in January 2010 and July 2013, respectively.
They volunteered to take up armed sentry duties at the institution against any intrusions by the Houthis.
Razif was armed with an AK-47 rifle and a Dragunov sniper rifle at different times. He also volunteered for sniper training, which he put into practice when fighting the Houthis.
Amiruddin was armed with an AK-47 and was involved in a fire-fight with the Houthis.
"Razif and Amiruddin were prepared to kill and be killed as 'martyrs' in the sectarian conflict in Yemen," said MHA.
"By taking up arms in Yemen, they have demonstrated a readiness to use violence to pursue their religious cause. As such, they are assessed to pose a security threat to Singapore."
Mohideen was pursuing his religious studies in Yemen from 2009 to early 2011 when he took up armed sentry duties.
He was assigned an AK-47 rifle and "understood that he had to return fire with the aim to kill if there was an incursion by the Houthis", said MHA.
But Mohideen did not encounter situations that required him to open fire.
He has been placed on a restriction order with effect from this month.
Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said: "Clearly, these men pose a clear and present danger had they returned and remained committed to violent extremism.
"Singapore would then be the forum for their acts of violence. They would have the training and experience to mount violent acts here. Their return to Singapore constitutes a grave threat to national security."
Psychiatrist Adrian Wang added that there are a number of factors that make a person dangerous.
"These include tendency to violence, recklessness and impulsiveness, disregard for other people's rights, failure to learn from past mistakes and an unwavering belief system that the person holds steadfastly to no matter the cost."
Responding to the recent MHA arrests, Muis said it showed that there are institutions abroad masquerading as centres of Islamic learning but are actually involved in armed conflict and militant activities, and propagate extremist ideologies.
These foreign schools prey on the vulnerable, especially those who approach them with the intent of deepening their religious belief.
Deputy Director, Office of the Mufti (Muis), Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, strongly urged Muslims in Singapore who wish to study Islam to "approach only recognised religious teachers for guidance and advice".
"For those who wish to study in foreign institutions, please consult Muis and we will provide guidance and the necessary support on the appropriate overseas institutions for Islamic studies," he said.
"We would also like to encourage parents and family members to be more active in guiding their loved ones to proper sources of Islamic learning."
Involvement abroad can jeopardise national interests
Since 2002, 72 people have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related activities.
About eight in 10 of them have been released.
The Home Affairs Ministry said the Government "takes a stern view against anyone who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise such violence ideologically, or where the violence takes place".
It made the statement after four radicalised Singaporeans, who have been dealt with under the ISA, were arrested.
"Geography does not mask the fact that such individuals would have demonstrated a dangerous tendency to support the use of violence," said MHA.
"Their involvement in overseas conflicts can also jeopardise Singapore's national interests, including our bilateral relations.
"They are deemed to pose a threat to Singapore's security and will be firmly dealt with in accordance with our laws."
There are currently 14 people issued with Orders of Detention, one on Suspension Direction and 22 issued with restriction orders.
An MHA spokesman said it is "unable to provide details regarding operational matters".
MHA also urges anyone aware of someone becoming involved in terrorism-related activities - including planning or taking steps to travel to conflict zones to take part in an armed conflict - or who observes suspicious activities or signs of radicalisation, to inform the Internal Security Department at 1800-2626-473 or the police.