Singaporean female ISIS radical detained
Parents knew daughter had become radicalised, but failed to alert authorities
Two years ago, they discovered she had become a believer and wanted to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The father and mother of Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, both freelance Quranic teachers, did not inform the authorities, but instead, tried to rehabilitate their daughter on their own. And failed.
The authorities eventually got wind of Izzah's radical beliefs and she is now the first woman in Singapore to be detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for radicalism.
In a statement yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the 22-year-old was detained earlier this month.
Izzah, an infant care assistant at a People's Action Party Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots Preschool, wanted to be a martyr's widow for ISIS.
According to MHA, Izzah was not planning any attack in Singapore but she did intend to travel to Syria to join ISIS, which has threatened attacks against Singapore.
The mother of one began to be radicalised in 2013 by ISIS online propaganda. Her parents and sister discovered the situation in 2015, but did not alert the authorities.
The ministry said: "Early reporting could enable the individual who is at risk of becoming radicalised to be given proper guidance and counselling. They could be steered away from the path of radicalisation and may not need to be severely dealt with under the law."
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said in a Facebook post yesterday that Izzah's case is a reminder of the serious threat of terrorism.
He said: "I strongly condemn the extremists who abuse Islam for their own twisted agenda. They belong to a small group. The overwhelming majority of us utterly reject their ideology and distortion of Islam.
"Every time we see a case such as this, we are all deeply disappointed and worried that Singaporeans will have doubts about Muslims."
Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, reminded Muslims to alert the authorities of any kind of suspicious behaviour or signs of radicalisation among (their) family and friends.
"This is the best way for us to help the individual, our loved ones from harming themselves and others," he said. "We are not here to condemn the individual. We condemn the act, but we want to save the individual. We want to help him or her, who has gone astray. We want to bring him or her back to the straight path."
The MHA did not reveal how Izzah's activities were discovered specifically, but it did say that when there is basis to suspect that a person may be radicalised, they would be called up for interview. How the investigation develops depends largely on the findings and the assessment of the threat posed by the individual.
Although the individual might be referred for counselling and other mitigating measures if they are found to be in the nascent stages of radicalisation, MHA said it would not hesitate to use the ISA to deal with individuals who are radicalised and have engaged in terrorist conduct.
While Izzah was being investigated, a family member destroyed important evidence regarding her plans and authorities are looking into taking action against this person.
Izzah shared pro-ISIS materials online and created new social media profiles when administrators took down her content, boasting to a contact that the authorities here had not detected her.
Believing she would reap heavenly rewards if she married an ISIS fighter who died in battle, Izzah planned to settle down with him and her child in Syria.
Izzah was also prepared to undergo military training and fight to defend ISIS.
She believed the terrorist group represented the true spirit of Islam. She had developed a wide network of foreign contacts online including militants and supporters, some of whom have since been killed in Syria or arrested for terrorist activities.
Singapore's highest Islamic authority, Mufti, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, called on the community to take the threat of self-radicalisation "very seriously".
He said: "I am deeply troubled by the news of the latest arrest - that someone so young could have been swayed by these nefarious beliefs, and would want to throw her life away...
"One life lost to exclusivism and extremism is one life too many." - ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID SUN
Early reporting best way to help loved ones
Despite knowing that Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari had been self-radicalised, her parents, who are both freelance teachers of the Quran, kept it from the authorities since 2015.
But the president of the Muslim Converts' Association of Singapore (Darul Arqam), Mr Muhammed Faiz, told The New Paper that early reporting is always the key to helping those influenced by extremist and exclusivist views.
If loved ones are unsure where to draw the line, Mr Faiz said help is always available to clarify their doubts.
"When it concerns religion, there could be some hesitation, but these apprehensions are not an excuse," said Mr Faiz.
"There are avenues to seek help here... we have the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), and the community should know that the door is always open. They are here to help."
There needs to be a "conscious" realisation that such radicalised individuals concern the security of the whole nation, and family members are the best informants to stop the problem early, he added.
Gleneagles Hospital Singapore psychiatrist Lim Boon Leng said parents may avoid reporting to the authorities to protect their children.
"Parents are always worried about the consequences to their loved ones," he said.
"They might fear that their children would be stigmatised and even be persecuted in certain ways."
Dr Lim added that parents may also feel it is something they can handle on their own and that it could just be a "phase".
The fear of their children being labelled a terrorist and the stigma it brings means that it is often more difficult for parents to report to the authorities that their children had become radicalised than if their children had committed a crime.
"The label of being a terrorist could stick with them throughout their lives, and it would affect them not only in school, where they could be ostracised and even expelled, but in their personal and work life as well," Dr Lim said.
In his response following the news about Izzah's arrest, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim called upon Muslims to alert the authorities if they notice "any strange behaviour".
Dr Yaacob said: "This is the best way for us to help the individual, our loved ones from harming themselves and others."
The Ministry of Home Affairs has said that if anyone knows or suspects that a person is radicalised, they should promptly call the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline on 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said the community can also contact it at 6359-1199 and the RRG at 1800-7747747 as well as via the RRG mobile app.
In a Facebook post yesterday evening, Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui said Izzah never posed a threat to the children under her care.
She had been a contract worker at the PCF Sparkletots Preschool in Tampines Street 32, located in Ms Cheng's Tampines East ward.
"Some Singaporeans, especially parents, may be disturbed that she was an infant care assistant and in contact with children," she said.
"We have been and will continue to work with the authorities and would like to assure parents that at no time was there a threat to the children under her care."
Muis: Be very wary of ISIS' carefully crafted messages
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has reminded the community to be "very wary" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's "carefully-crafted messages" on social media, adding that a radicalised individual's support structure may not be able to counter them.
In a media statement yesterday about the arrest of the 22-year-old woman, Muis said the case "reinforces that the danger of self-radicalisation is very real".
"An individual may fall prey to false narratives and teachings on the Internet and social media, such that even a real-life support structure may not be able to counter them," said a Muis spokesman.
He added that Muis and its partners will continue to work to safeguard against exclusivist and extremist ideas from taking root in the community.
Muis added: "This incident is a reminder that there should not be any let-up in our fight against extremist and radicalised teachings."
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu took to Facebook yesterday to weigh in on the issue, reminding Singaporeans to stand united amid "challenging times".
Reiterating calls for the community to stay vigilant and report individuals suspected of radicalisation, she said: "If Singaporeans start to shun and reject one another, our society will fracture, and the terrorists will win. We must never let that happen. We must stand with them in these challenging times.
"As Singaporeans, if we stay united, we will prevail."