Vulnerable youths are easy prey for ISIS propaganda, say terrorism experts
Vulnerable youths are easy prey for ISIS propaganda, experts warn how to spot 'terrorist indicators'
They may be bored, looking for excitement, or simply think that radicalism is an adventure.
Those were some of the reasons terrorism expert Dr Ahmed Salah Hashim cited to explain the trend of vulnerable young people being influenced by terrorist propaganda online.
While these youths may not be able to conduct a successful terrorist attack until they join an extremist group in their nefarious activities, it does not make them any less dangerous, said the associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
In a press release yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed that an unnamed 17-year-old post-secondary youth was arrested earlier this month under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for further investigations into the extent of his radicalisation.
Another youth, post-secondary student M Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i, 19, has been detained since April under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.
Arifil's first brush with radical ideology began in 2013 when he viewed terrorist propaganda online.
He became so enamoured with the violent tactics employed by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that he started hatching plans to join the group.
First, Arifil went online and tried to befriend people he thought could help him join ISIS.
He also looked up information on travel routes to Syria so that he could take part in armed violence there. His research even extended to making improvised explosive devices, investigations revealed.
Arifil came up with a contingency plan in case he failed to join ISIS - to carry out violent attacks at key facilities and assassinate government leaders here.
Should that mission fail, he would then carry out attacks in public places using easily available weapons like knives to instil fear.
Arifil's intentions were confirmed by people whom he tried, but failed, to recruit, MHA said.
The ministry became aware of Arifil's plans when someone close to him noticed the changes in the student and alerted the authorities.
The trend of ISIS targeting young people is a global phenomenon that is likely to persist, said Professor Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at RSIS.
He pointed to three "terrorist indicators" that Singaporeans should be vigilant about: a sudden change of behaviour, isolation from the community and family, and hatred towards other religious communities.
"As long as Singaporeans remain alert and vigilant (to these indicators), it will be very difficult for a successful terrorist attack to take place," he said.
Dr Fanar Haddad, a research fellow at the Middle East Institute (MEI) at the National University of Singapore, feels there is not much that can be done about online terrorist propaganda content without "severely curtailing Internet access".
Prof Rohan emphasised the importance of exposing the "evilness and murderous nature" of ISIS, to which MEI's Dr Fanar suggested that Muslim community leaders can play a role there.
Said Dr Fanar: "Rather than just issuing blanket condemnations of militant ideology and militant groups, I think the ideas behind these movements and the arguments presented by them must be faced and challenged head on and point by point by authoritative Muslim sources rather than just the mainstream media or by political leaders.
"Otherwise, militant groups will retain their attraction through their appeal to people's sense of victimisation, injustice or alienation (be it real or perceived) or indeed, in some cases, by appealing to their religiously inspired fantasies."
Anyone who knows or suspects that a person is radicalised should promptly call the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre’s 24-hour helpline: 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).
JI MEMBERS RELEASED
Three Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members were released from detention last year after they were assessed to no longer pose a security threat that required preventive detention, said the Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday.
Sahrudin Mohd Sapian and Mohamed Rafee Abdul Rahman, who were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 2012, were placed on Restriction Orders (RO) in February last year.
The two men had undergone terrorist training in Afghanistan in 2000.
Mohamed Rashid Zainal Abidin, who was detained under the ISA in 2006, was placed on RO in May last year.
Mohamed Rashid had undergone terrorist training in southern Philippines.
The ministry added that the ROs against four other JI members - Ab Wahab Ahmad, Syed Ibrahim, Ibrahim Mohd Noor and Jahpar Osman - and one self-radicalised individual, Muhammad Thahir Shaik Dawood, were allowed to lapse between June last year and April.
All five men had been cooperative and responsive to rehabilitation efforts, the ministry said.
Other teens drawn to ISIS
The two Singaporean teenagers who are in custody for trying to go to Syria to fight for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are just two of the many teenagers from around the world who are being courted by the terror outfit.
Here are some examples:
A 14-year-old Malaysian girl who was on her way to join ISIS was detained by police at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February.
Police said the girl was intending to go to Syria via Egypt for "jihad", The Malaysian Insider new site reported.
She had been influenced by propaganda on Facebook, the police said.
Another 16-year-old, along with five men, were charged in court earlier this month for plotting terror attacks in the country.
Oliver Bridgeman, 18, from Queensland, is believed to have left his hometown of Toowoomba in March to join the Al Nusra Front, the official Syrian affiliate of Al-Qaeda, and several Islamist factions.
Another teenager, Irfaan Hussein, a 19-year-old from Melbourne, with links to those accused of planning terrorist acts on home soil, reportedly died in March while fighting for ISIS in Syria, News Corp reported.
But it is not clear whether the teenager was beheaded while trying to return home or was killed in a bomb blast.
Three British schoolgirls - Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, who are all believed to be 16 - disappeared from their homes in London in February and flew to Turkey, then crossed into Syria to join ISIS.
It is understood they were following another 15-year-old girl who travelled there in December.
The three girls were married off to ISIS militants, but have since been reported missing, with the terror group now "thoroughly searching for them" after their escape, The Mirror reported.
A 14-year-old boy who downloaded bomb-making plans onto his PlayStation games console was sentenced to a two-year jail term on Tuesday after pleading guilty to terrorism charges.
He had also made contact with militants supporting ISIS, prosecutors said ahead of his trial.
MINISTERS WEIGH IN ON THE ARRESTS
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean:
"Our community leaders have worked hard to counter radical ideology. We should all, from all communities in Singapore, support each other in this effort.
"The Government will also provide more support to community groups to do more. All of us have to work together to overcome this issue together.
"All of us must play our part. If you know or suspect anyone who is becoming radicalised, please notify the authorities early. You would be helping to save that person from harming himself and others.
"Our security agencies will do their utmost to detect and prevent any terrorist attack. However, as we have seen in other countries, an attack can still happen even in countries that are already on high security alert.
"We must strengthen our community resilience so that if an incident were to occur here, we can recover and emerge even stronger and more united."
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister- in-charge of Muslim Affairs:
"It is never pleasant for me nor the community to find out that we have youths who have been seduced by radical ideology. It is a huge loss to the community and our nation as these are young people with a future full of potential.
"This is a reminder for us - parents, religious teachers, friends and community at large - to remain vigilant. We must do our utmost to reach out to young people who are in search of answers to problems confronting their generation.
"Our community has done well thus far in tackling radical ideology. We have strong support from within the community and from our non-Muslim friends. We have trust and confidence in each other as fellow Singaporeans.
"We must continue to build on these strong foundations. The extremist actions of a few cannot and must not unravel the peace and harmony that we enjoy today. We must double our efforts and together find new and creative ways to engage our youths.
"Together, we will tackle this challenge and emerge stronger and more united as one people."