US-backed group drives ISIS out of Syrian city

FREE: To shave, and to burn a cloak. Residents of Manbij celebrate the end of ISIS rule.
FREE: To shave, and to burn a cloak. Residents of Manbij celebrate the end of ISIS rule.
FREE: To shave, and to burn a cloak. Residents of Manbij celebrate the end of ISIS rule.
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I was almost recruited into a terrorism group

UNLUCKY: Mr Tegar Sucianto was one of the six people arrested on Aug 5 in Batam, in an anti-terror swoop by Indonesian authorities.

Six men were arrested in Batam on Aug 5 in connection with the terror plot against Singapore.

One of them was released later. He says he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mr Tegar Sucianto's friend Hadi Gusti Yanda, 20, was one of the five Indonesians picked up by anti-terror police and later taken to Jakarta.

The pair were on the way to work when both were surrounded, pinned to the ground, had hoods placed over the heads and were bundled into a van.

Hours later, Mr Tegar, 19, learnt that his friend was a member of a terror cell group that had sworn allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He tells The New Paper on Sunday that he was shocked, but also horrified that his friend had been actively trying to recruit him. And he had little clue.

Until the arrest, he thought he knew everything about the friend he had first met in secondary school seven years ago.

They grew up playing video games and football and both lived in the Batu Aji neighbourhood on Batam.

They even worked at the same Asus factory after they graduated last year.

Mr Tegar says: "Hadi seemed like a normal teenager, we were good friends.

"When we were growing up, I never noticed anything strange about him."

But Hadi changed last year and Mr Tegar says his friend would talk often about suicide bombers, Syria and ISIS.

He thought Hadi was just more religious than him.

"Hadi would always remind me to pray when I was lazy. It made sense that he knew all the news he talked about, I thought he was just keeping me up-to-date," he says.

But then Hadi invited him to meet a religious group to learn more about Islam.

Mr Tegar resisted at first.

"Why should I go? I wasn't really interested in all this religious knowledge.

"But Hadi would keep on asking," he says.

Mr Tegar finally relented late last year. He agreed to travel with Hadi to the Nurul Islam mosque in the Muka Kuning district, about a 30-minute drive from their village.

Mr Tegar believes the hour-long meeting was the first time members of the terror cell Katibah Gonggong Rebus met.

There were six people at the meeting, but Mr Tegar says nobody knew each other.

"They had only communicated via chat groups in WhatsApp and other apps. It seemed like they were all meeting for the first time," he says.

UNCOMFORTABLE

As the group introduced themselves and dwelled on religious issues, Mr Tegar became uncomfortable.

"I had no interest in what they were talking about and told Hadi I wanted to go home," he recalls.

Before they left, they were all instructed to download the Telegram messenger app, says Mr Tegar.

He did as he was told and was added into a chat group.

Mr Tegar says he received hundreds of messages daily over the next few days.

He tried to ignore the conversation by muting the chat.

"I didn't read it, there were so many messages. From what I saw, it was just a lot of things about Islam, like tips about how to pray and how to be a better Muslim."

He claims he did not participate in the conversation and was kicked out of the group a week after he joined.

"I was surprised, but I was fine being kicked out without warning," he says.

He deleted the Telegram app from his phone and the two friends never talked about the group again.

On Aug 5, Mr Tegar was giving Hadi a ride to work on his motorcycle when they were boxed in by several police vehicles.

The officers approached Hadi first, handcuffing him and blindfolding him before doing the same to Mr Tegar.

Mr Tegar says: "It was all happening so fast, I had no idea what was going on and I was panicking."

The two were taken to the Brimob special police headquarters for questioning. Later, Hadi was taken away while Mr Tegar was made to wait in a police car.

"The officers were nicer to me than to Hadi. They spoke to me in a friendly way and even apologised for arresting me," he says.

Mr Tegar was released that evening after questioning and was home at 8pm. He was embraced by his worried mother, 42-year-old shop owner Desi Fitrianti.

She says: "I hugged him so tight because I was scared.

"All of a sudden in the afternoon that day, there were all these reporters knocking on my door, asking me if I knew that my son was a terrorist."

He says of the experience: "Nobody's really scared of me because they know that I'm innocent. Some people stare and ask me, but I'm honest with them, there's no reason to be scared if I'm telling the truth."

But he says of the man he thought was his friend: "I guess you never know people really. I never thought he would be someone like that."

Indonesian authorities arrested a total of five suspects in an anti-terror swoop after preliminary investigations showed they were part of a little-known cell called Katibah GR or Cell GR.

Hadi, along with the remaining four suspects, Gigih Rahmat Dewa, Trio Syafrido, Eka Saputra and Tarmidzi, were later taken from Batam to Jakarta for investigations.

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Tags: Olympics, sport and Swimming

A medal that can change mindsets

Joseph Schooling hopes his Olympic success will inspire Singaporeans to chase their sporting dreams

Joseph Schooling.

This, many Singaporeans would never have thought possible.

That in their lifetime, one of their own would climb the top step and be called Olympic champion.

Now we know, what a gifted young Singaporean can accomplish in his field of dreams.

As a six-year-old, Joseph Schooling dreamed of becoming an Olympic winner.

Yesterday morning (Singapore time), here in Rio at the 2016 Games, he splashed his way into the record books. Mission accomplished.

The 21-year-old won the men's 100m butterfly in an Olympic record time of 50.39 seconds, outclassing the world's best and receiving his membership card into an exclusive club.

On it, it says: Olympic gold medallist, Joseph Schooling, Singapore.

Now he knows what it feels like to fulfil a dream.

Now we know what it feels like to sing Majulah Singapura as one of our own stands on that hallowed podium, shining gold next to his heart as the Singapore flag is raised the highest at the Olympic Games.

At a packed post-race press conference more than an hour after his mighty race at the Olympic Aquatics Centre, The New Paper on Sunday asked Schooling what it felt like to achieve his dream, and he said: "It hasn't really sunk in, yet. I think it will take a couple of days where I can chill out for it to hit me.

"Right now, I can say that this is for my country, my friends, my family and all those people who supported me and believed in me."

Now we know a Singaporean can beat Michael Phelps.

No one outside of our island nation believed it was possible. Maybe, deep down, many Singaporeans also did not think the American world-record holder (49.82) could be beaten.

RECORD

Phelps, the greatest Olympian and owner of a record 22 gold medals, had not lost the event in the three previous Games.

The 31-year-old was the world's favourite. He had already won four golds here and he would know what to do in the final, they said.

But Schooling was not going to be beaten.

Maybe we should have known after the opening round of heats, when he led a field of 16 into the semi-finals with an easy, powerful swim.

Maybe we should have known when he emerged first again after the semi-finals, clocking 50.83 to set a new Asian and national record.

Schooling was never behind in both his swims and when it mattered the most he was, once again, always in front.

The University of Texas undergraduate led from the start and never relinquished his lead, even surprising the GREATEST.

"I knew Joe was great underwater. He was clearly the most prepared in the field and his turn was very good," said a warm and magnanimous Phelps, who incredibly finished joint second with South Africa's Chad le Clos and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, the first time there was a three-way tie at an Olympic swimming event.

"It is what it is... I hate to lose, but I accept this. Hats off to Joe. I look forward to seeing how he progresses in the next four years...

"I'm excited to see how much faster he can go. To see someone break 50 (seconds) will be exciting."

This is Phelps' final Olympics.

Schooling is only getting started and now dreams his feat will ignite Singapore sport.

"I hope this changes our sporting culture and mindset about sport. We know now a small country can produce Olympic champions," he said.

"I hope this opens a new door, opens more doors, for sports in our country.

"Hopefully, I've set a precedent for a lot more young guys to come through."

And young girls too, of course.

Now we know what can be accomplished if all the levers are pulled together in one direction.

Dad and mum Colin and May Schooling allowed their son to chase his dream and backed him to the hilt.

He was tutored by world-class coaches - Sergio Lopez and, more recently, Eddie Reese.

The Schooling camp drew up a detailed blueprint to request deferment from National Service. Mindef believed, and Singapore has just made a thrilling mark on the global stage of sport with a first Olympic gold medal.

Generation after generation, a sports-mad nation did not think it was possible.

Talented sportsmen and sportswomen toiled blood, sweat and tears. There was some measure of success, but conquering the Olympic peak seemed an impossible dream.

There was anger, internal bickering and loud complaints over a lack of support from the highest levels.

The paper chase set in and the importance of sports excellence waned.

Schooling overcame all the baggage and all the pressure, and has now restored the faith.

"You can't learn to handle pressure overnight," said the easy-going, confident youngster.

"I've had a lot of failures to learn from.

"Like Michael said, it's about how badly you want it. It's all about belief."

They built a temporary Olympic swimming arena in Rio for the Olympics, and Phelps came.

Schooling came, and fired up a nation.

Now, because of him, we believe in the field of dreams.

"My heartiest congratulations to Joseph Isaac Schooling for his historic gold medal win, and Olympic record of 50.39 seconds for the 100m butterfly! This is Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal ever, and also our first medal for #Rio2016. It is an incredible feat to compete among the world’s best, stay focussed, and emerge victorious. Congrats once again to Joseph, you made us very proud today."

— Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Joseph Schooling: The road to gold

2006

Curious to know how far their child could go in the sport, the Schoolings send Joseph for a bone age test.

The test, which determines growth potential, revealed that he should hit around 1.9m, an optimum height for top swimmers. He now stands at about 1.85m.

2008

A 13-year-old Schooling sets a personal best in the 200m butterfly which is faster than the US age-group mark by some three seconds. He also gets further inspired by a meeting with idol Michael Phelps when the American great was here to prepare for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

2009

The former Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) student joins The Bolles School in the United States.

Still more than two months away from his 14th birthday, Schooling smashes Singapore's oldest junior record - the under-14 200m butterfly - with a time of 2:10.56, almost three seconds faster than Tan V-Meng's mark set in 1987. The youngster also eclipses his own 100m butterfly time by almost a second, clocking 59.4.

He said then: "I'm sacrificing my childhood - my time with friends, but I want to look back after I've reached my goal and be able to say that I made it."

2010

Barely a year since moving to Florida, working with Olympics bronze medalist Sergio Lopez is beginning to bear great fruit as the 1.82m teenager is ranked the fastest in the US for his age in the 100 yards butterfly (short-course).

2011

February

Schooling, 15, is part of a school relay team which shatters America's age-group (15-16) 4x100 yards medley relay record by almost six seconds, but it was not acknowledged as a new national record because he is not a US citizen.

June

Sets three new national records in 100m butterfly (54.19), 200m butterfly (2:00.05), and 200m individual medley (2:05.07) at the National Swimming Championships.

July

At this point, he owns the 50m (24.95) 100m (53.71) and 200m butterfly (1:57.95) national records with timings clocked at the Asean School Games.

November

Schooling, 16, announces his arrival in senior international competition with impressive swims at the SEA Games in Palembang, winning the 200m fly in 1:56.67, a new Games and national record which was also under the London 2012 A qualifying mark.

He also sets new national marks in the 50m fly (24.06), 200m IM (2:04.85) and 100m fly (53.18).

December

At the US Short-Course Junior National Championships, the Singaporean surpasses American superstar Michael Phelps' age-group (15-16 years) time by nine-hundreths of a second in the 100 yards butterfly (short course) by clocking 47.06.

2012

April

Father Colin creates swimming aids for his son and delivers them to Florida. These include the drag chute, which is attached to the swimmer's waist via a cord and builds strength and endurance through resistance. This is also Colin's most elaborate masterpiece since he started customising swimming devices when Joseph was just a young child.

May

Aged 16, he becomes the youngest winner of the Sportsman of the Year award for his exploits in 2011.

July

Making his Olympics debut, Team Singapore youngest member at London 2012 has a rare nightmarish outing as his swim cap and goggles are rejected before the 200m butterfly heat as they fail to meet Olympic regulations.

After scrambling to find replacements, he clocks 1:59.18, and does not make the semis. Schooling also fails to make the semi-final of the 100m fly, with his time of 53.63 some way off his personal best of 53.18.

2013

March

Schooling swims 54.71 to beat 12-time Olympic medalist American Ryan Lochte (55.20) to win the 100m butterfly (long course) final at the Speedo South Sectional Championships in Florida.

July

Schooling misses out on the World Championships 200m butterfly final but his time of 1:56.27 is a new national record. He also becomes the first Singapore swimmer to go below the two-minute barrier in the 200m IM, when he clocks 1:59.99 in Barcelona.

October

Schooling is granted deferment from National Service to allow him to prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics. He also agrees to join the University of Texas at Austin to go under the tutelage of Eddie Reese, the legendary assistant coach of the US men's team at the London Olympics.

December

It becomes clear that Schooling is a big fish in the small Asean pool as he collects six gold medals from the SEA Games in Naypyidaw.

2014

July

Wins Singapore's first-ever Commonwealth Games swimming medal, a silver behind South African star Chad le Clos in the 100m butterfly with a time of 51.69. Despite finishing seventh in the 50m butterfly final, his 23.43 set in the heats is a new Asian record.

September

Schooling claims the full compliment of medals at the Asiad when he wins silver in the 50m butterfly, bronze in the 200m butterfly and gold in the 100m butterfly to become the first male swimmer to win an Asian Games gold since Ang Peng Siong in 1982.

2015

June

Extending his amazing streak at the SEA Games, Schooling takes gold in all nine events he entered for on home soil, setting new Games records in each of them, including the 50m freestyle (22.47) which was previously held by Ang (22.69) for 33 years.

August

It gets even better for Schooling, who becomes the first Singaporean to medal at the World Championships when he wins bronze in the 100m butterfly with a time of 50.96, a new Asian record. Le Clos wins in 50.56, while Hungarian Laszlo Cseh requires a national record of 50.87 to take silver.

2016

June

He claims his first win over Phelps when he out-touched the American by seven hundredths of a second in the 100m butterfly at the Longhorns Elite Invite with a time of 51.58.

August

He "warms up" at Rio 2016 by clocking a new 100m freestyle national record of 48.27 in the heats before finishing last of 16 swimmers in the semi-finals.

But it is in the 100m butterfly that Schooling truly dazzles. A time of 51.41 is good enough to top the 43-swimmer field in the heats and he goes on to set another Asian record as his 50.83 in the semi-finals is 0.6 seconds faster than the next best performer Le Clos.

August 13

History is made when he touches the wall first in a new Olympic record of 50.39 in the 100m butterfly final to win Singapore's first-ever Olympic gold, beating Phelps, Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh into a dead-heat silver by 0.75 seconds.

Joseph Schooling, this is what you did for your country

This morning, my eight-year-old daughter spontaneously decided to pick up a Singapore flag and wave it at the TV screen.

Joseph Schooling, you did that.

After standing for Majulah Singapura, she declared that she would one day be an Olympic gold medal winner, because she lives in Singapore. And Singaporeans win gold medals now.

Joseph Schooling, you did that.

Across a tiny island, a nation stopped and held its breath for 50.39 seconds, too nervous to move, too scared to let go. 

But a hand touched the wall first in a Rio swimming pool, a Singaporean hand, releasing its grip on more than five million people. And we exhaled.

And then we roared.

The cheers drifted from apartment to apartment, from coffee shop to coffee shop, from quiet hope to giddy reality, creating a spiritual daisy chain of celebration from one end of the country to the other.

Joseph Schooling, you did that.

Across the world, myopic media agencies and western-centric commentators are learning to prefix "Olympic champion" with "Singaporean" for the first time.

It's no longer that guy standing next to Michael Phelps. It's the Singaporean guy. The guy. Our guy.

The guy who beat Michael Phelps, the guy who lifted his hand to the scoreboard and called for the final results. Bring it. Bring it home. Bring it to the Little Red Dot. Singapore is on the golden map now, in our time, for all time.

Joseph Schooling, you did that.

Back in Singapore, a young country understood, really understood, that sport knits a multicultural and multiracial fabric like nothing else.

Rallies, community events and impassioned speeches have a role to play, but athletes carry the flag to parts of a nation's psyche others cannot reach.

Singaporeans watched the 100m butterfly final because they had to, they were compelled to, by the proud patriotic soul that is buried deep within even the most cynical of citizens. For 50.39 seconds, nothing else mattered beyond the athlete, the race and the flag.

Joseph Schooling, you did that.

On social media, a photograph continues to be tweeted, shared and idolised.

It's an image of an aspirational kid standing next to a sporting colossus, an awe-inspiring slab of lean muscle, a perfect swimming specimen beside a wide-eyed, cherubic kid.

It's man and boy. It's Michael Phelps, the Olympic god, and Joseph Schooling, the daydream believer.

It's an image familiar to millions and forgettable to Phelps, just another happy snap with another dumbstruck fan, another day at the office for the greatest Olympian of all time.

But this kid was different. This kid didn't merely idolise. He aspired. He saw more than a superstar. He saw a destination, a pathway, a role model and an end goal. Most of all, he saw victory.

Now the torch is passed, others will come. Girls and boys will stand beside the man for photographs. When they look up, they will see what a prepubescent Schooling saw when he posed with Phelps. They'll see a gateway to glory, with one crucial difference. They'll see stars, but not stripes. They'll see a Singaporean.

Joseph Schooling, you did that.

Today, an entire country walks with a spring in its step.

One hundred metres for a man proved to be one giant leap for Singapore.

Schooling's butterfly effect will be felt for days, weeks and years to come. Kids will swim, run, jump and throw further and faster, thanks to Schooling.

Parents will hopefully acknowledge the value of incorporating a practical work-life balance for their children, thanks to Schooling's remarkably supportive and understanding family.

Most of all, Singaporeans will never forget. Everyone will remember where they were the day they walked with giants.

Joseph Schooling, you did that.

And, this morning, a hopelessly emotional 41-year-old man had to explain to his daughter why he was crying.

Joseph Schooling, Olympic gold medallist and proud owner of the greatest moment in Singapore's sporting history, you did that.

Schooling wins Olympic gold, pays tribute to Phelps

It rang out loud and crisp.

"Gold medallist and Olympic champion, Joseph Schooling."

Never before had those words been uttered at the Olympic Games.

A loud roar went up as Singapore's history-maker strode up the top step to take his bow and receive the medal from countryman Ng Ser Miang, member of the International Olympic Committee.

It rang out loud and crisp on Friday night in Rio.

Never before had the anthem been played at the Olympic Games, and Majulah Singapura was sung proudly as the Republic's flag was raised highest at the aquatics arena.

With a country transfixed, in front of millions watching on TV - and a packed swimming stage in Rio - Singapore's Schooling stunned the world with a blistering race in the men's 100m butterfly, claiming gold in a new Olympic record time of 50.39, ending Michael Phelps' hopes of a record-equaling fourth consecutive triumph in one event.

The 21-year-old broke his previous national record and Asian mark of 50.83, which he set here in the semi-finals.

Joseph Schooling's medal. TNP PHOTO

In a remarkable twist, there was another Olympic first in swimming when Phelps, Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh all finished 51.14, and shared second spot.

With Phelps retiring at the end of this Olympics, Schooling paid tribute to his idol at a standing room only press conference later, when he said: "He's the Greatest. I idolized him and he's the perfect guy to follow, what is it 22, 23 gold medals.

"If it wasn't for Michael, I wouldn't be able to do this."

"A lot of this is because of Michael."  

The American phenomenon, who will go for a record 23rd gold medal in the 4x100m individual medley here on Saturday night to end his Olympic career, was equally effusive in his praise for the Singaporean.

"Joe's fast. I've been watching him develop. He's got the talent and ability and I look forward to seeing how he progresses over the next few years."

The ultimate Olympic career is set to come to an end here in Rio, but Schooling's ride still has plenty left in the tank.

Schooling beats idol Phelps, wins first Olympic gold for Singapore

Joseph Schooling pulled off a stunning upset at the Rio Olympics by beating Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly to win Singapore’s first ever gold medal.

The win gave Singapore its first Olympic gold medal and denied Michael Phelps a 23rd in the last individual race of the American’s extraordinary career.

Phelps, the defending champion and world record holder who is heading into retirement – again – after Rio, finished second in a three-way dead heat with two of his greatest rivals – South Africa’s Chad Le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh.

Astonishingly, all three touched out in 51.14 seconds, behind Schooling’s Olympic record 50.39 in the second dead-heat in a final in two days. “I’m just ecstatic. I don’t think it has set in yet. It’s just crazy,” said Schooling.

Phelps, who now has 27 medals, had been hoping to win the event for the fourth successive Games but his Midas touch deserted him and he had to settle for another colour medal for the first time in Rio.

PHOTO: AFP

His tally now reads 22 golds, three silvers and two bronzes. He has one event remaining, the 4x100 medley relay on Saturday, before bowing out. “I don’t know if I’ve (ever) been in a tie, so a three way tie is pretty wild,” said Phelps. “I saw a second next to my name and then I looked up again and I looked over at Laszlo and Chad and hey we all tied. We’re all second that’s kind of cool. “It’s kind of special, and a decent way to finish my last individual race. Can’t complain too much,” he said.

Le Clos, who lost his 200m butterfly title to Phelps on Tuesday, failed in his bid to turn the tables but was happy not to have been beaten by him again either. “Strange is not the right word. Need to create a new one for that,” he said. “I got silver tie in London so a three way tie is crazy. Maybe in Tokyo a four way tie.”

The tie, although astonishing, was not unprecedented in top level swimming.

At least year’s world championships in Kazan, Russia, three women tied for 200 breaststroke bronze – Spain’s Jessica Vall, Denmark’s Rikke Moeller Pedersen and China’s Shi Jinglin.

Two women’s freestyle golds were handed out on Thursday after Canada’s Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel of the United States recorded the same time.

– Reuters

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