EXPERT: Stay alert but don't be alarmed
Terrorism a global problem, but Singaporeans should remain united and not discriminate against foreign workers
The fact that the 27 arrested Bangladeshis were from the local construction industry points to one of Singapore's vulnerabilities: Our heavy reliance on foreign workers, said Dr Ahmed Salah Hashim from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
The terrorism expert added: "It's diabolically clever. The extremists are going for a vulnerable group in Singapore that is susceptible to the siren song of the extremists."
Even though the 27 were planning attacks outside Singapore, they could have "easily changed their minds and attacked Singapore", Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam pointed out in a Facebook post.
He wrote: "Our security agencies have done well in picking them up early. I had said yesterday that the threat of terrorism is real. We are getting daily reminders of that."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said in a Facebook post last night: "They were plotting nefarious activities in Bangladesh and other countries, and not in Singapore. But they were still a serious threat to us.
"We are tightening up our security, and acting to protect our racial and religious harmony. Radicalisation and terrorism must never take root in Singapore."
RSIS' Dr Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman said the arrests here do not come as a surprise as terrorism is a global problem.
"The boundaries between nations are increasingly becoming less relevant," he said.
He also said that the arrests could be linked to the recent death penalty on a top party leader in an Islamist political party in Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami.
"One particular trend I see is that when legitimate parties are banned, it results in the radicalisation of segments of the population," said Dr Nawab.
Security analyst Kumar Ramakrishna said the arrests show that Singapore should pay more attention to foreign workers from Muslim countries that face the threat of violent extremism.
This is because there is a chance that such ideologies may be "imported in our own backyard", said the counter-terrorism expert.
Dr Ramakrishna also said that everyone should stay "alert, but not alarmed" and avoid tarring all Muslim foreign workers with the "terrorist brush".
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim agreed.
"I hope we will remain united and not resort to discriminating foreign workers here," he wrote on Facebook.
"The actions of a few cannot determine how we treat others who have worked so hard to build our homes, schools and hospitals.
"All of us, regardless of race, language or religion, have a role to play. With solidarity and strong bonds of trust, I am confident we can overcome these threats as one people."
They were plotting nefarious activities in Bangladesh and other countries, and not in Singapore. But they were still a serious threat to us. We are tightening up our security, and acting to protect our racial and religious harmony. Radicalisation and terrorism must never take root in Singapore.
- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post last night
In June last year, Mustafa Sultan Ali, a 51-year-old Singaporean, was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for trying to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
He had planned to cross into Syria from the Turkish border, but was detained by the Turkish authorities and deported to Singapore.
Investigations showed that Mustafa was deeply radicalised by the ISIS ideology online and had wanted to fight alongside ISIS, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
He was also prepared to carry out ISIS-directed attacks against Western establishments here.
A Singaporean teenager who was not named was arrested last May for authorities to probe the extent of his radicalisation.
Investigations showed that he became radicalised after viewing terrorist propaganda online and had wanted to engage in armed violence alongside the ISIS, said MHA.
A month later, he was released and placed on a Restriction Order (RO) under the ISA for two years.
Under the RO, the youth must attend religious counselling and stop going online to get violent or extremist materials. He is also not allowed to leave Singapore without official permission or to issue public statements.
M. Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i, 19, was detained in April last year under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.
His first brush with radical ideology began in 2013 when he viewed terrorist propaganda online.
He became so enamoured that he started hatching plans to join the ISIS, including befriending people whom he thought could help him join ISIS.
He also researched travel routes to Syria.
The Ministry of Home Affairs became aware of Arifil's plans when someone close to him noticed the changes in him and alerted the authorities.