Radicalisation and Terror Attack-Related Penalties in Singapore
With the rise of social media, access to radical material has been made easier. This has unfortunately led to the phenomenon of self-radicalisation. In 2019, self-radicalised individuals made up the bulk of those who were issued orders under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
How does Singapore deal with radicalisation, violent extremism and terrorism-related offences, and what can you do if you spot someone who is radicalised?
Read on to find out more about:
What is Extremism?
While there are various definitions of extremism, the focus, when it comes to terrorism, is on violent extremism.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines violent extremism as “encouraging, condoning, justifying, or supporting the commission of a violent act to achieve political, ideological, religious, social or economic goals.”
What is Radicalisation?
Radicalisation is the process through which one comes to adopt extremist religious, social or political ideals. As a result of radicalisation, one may even end up promoting or participating in terrorist activities.
How one becomes radicalised varies. A person may have been recruited by terrorist groups to commit terrorist attacks, or become self-radicalised through the consumption of radical material (whether online or offline).
Some signs of radicalisation are:
- Low tolerance and hostility towards multi-racialism and multi-religious living
- A fascination with violent extremist views, including the avid consumption of radical materials
- Espousing an “us versus them” mindset (e.g. displaying hatred or intolerance towards people of other races or religions)
- Support for the use of violence as a solution to achieve extremist political or religious agenda
- Expressing support for terrorist or militant groups
- Expressing an interest in committing terrorist violence, including making plans to travel to and participate in foreign conflict
What are the Possible Penalties for Radicalisation or Having Violent Extremist Ideas in Singapore?
A radicalised person or a person with violent extremist ideas can be detained under Singapore’s Internal Security Act, starting with an initial detention by the police. Depending on how far the person has been radicalised, they may also be issued a Restriction Order (RO) or an order of Preventive Detention (PD) (also known as an Order of Detention or OD).
After detention or imposing an RO, the Singapore authorities will try to rehabilitate and release such individuals. The approach has been described by Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam as “detention, rehabilitate and release”.
The basic penalties are summarised below. For more details about the detention process, please see the sub-section titled “Preventive detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA)” in our other article.
Following the description of the penalties, the current article will provide some case studies to illustrate how Singapore applies the various penalties to different situations.
Initially, one may be arrested without warrant and detained for investigation if the police have reason to believe that:
- The person has acted or is likely to act in any manner prejudicial to the security of Singapore or any part of Singapore; and
- There are grounds to justify a PD Order.
Such detention can extend to 30 days, and may be followed by an RO or a PD Order.
Restriction Order (RO)
Following the initial detention, the offender may be released on an RO. Such an order would direct any or all of the following:
- Restrictions on the person’s activities and places of his/her residence and employment.
- This includes restrictions on changing his/her residence and/or place of employment.
- A curfew preventing him/her from being outdoors between certain times of day without a written permit.
- A requirement to report his/her movements to the authority or person specified in the order.
- A prohibition on him/her:
- Addressing public meetings;
- Holding office in or taking part in the activities of or acting as adviser to any organisation or association; or
- Taking part in any political activities.
- A travel restriction prohibiting him/her from travelling outside of Singapore, or certain parts of Singapore, specified in the RO without permission.
The RO will be imposed for a period of up to 2 years, and can be extended by further periods up to 2 years at a time. The individual may also need to provide a bond.
Preventive Detention (PD)
The primary power under the ISA is that of the PD Order. To prevent any person from acting in a manner prejudicial to the security of Singapore or the maintenance of public order or any essential services therein, the Minister for Home Affairs may make an order detaining that person for a period of up to 2 years.
The period of detention under the PD Order can be extended by further periods of up to 2 years at a time.
To counter religious extremism, those who are under ROs and have been radicalised to extremist ideals also undergo regular religious counselling.
For example, one group that conducts such counselling is the Religious Rehabilitation Group, which guides individuals to the mainstream understanding of Islam and away from the leanings of radical preachers.
A Detention Order may be suspended subject to “Suspension Directions” (SD). In other words, the Minister for Home Affairs may direct that a PD Order be suspended subject to the execution of a bond and particular conditions and restrictions as the Minister sees fit.
Such an order might be made if the person is believed to no longer pose a security threat that requires him/her to be placed in preventive detention.
The possible restrictions and conditions are the same as those in an RO. However, there is the additional possibility of permitting the person subject to the SD to return to his/her country or to another country of his/her choice, provided that the government of that country consents to receiving him/her.
If the individual subject to the SD fails to abide by any of the conditions, or if it is necessary in the public interest that the SD should be revoked, the Minister may revoke the SD and reinstate the PD Order.
What are the Possible Consequences of Planning and Carrying Out Terrorist Attacks?
Terrorist attacks and planning such attacks are generally dealt with under the ISA, i.e., subject to the same orders as described above, rather than the normal criminal legal system. Reasons for this include the following:
- By the time a case is built up in court, it may be too late to stop a terrorist attack, because the criminal law is tailored to punishing crimes that have already been completed. In contrast, the ISA focuses on the prevention of the attack in the first place.
- Using the ISA prevents extremists from having a platform to publicise their ideas or inflaming passions in open court.
- Bringing terrorists to court could reveal national intelligence.
What are the Penalties for Supporting and/or Funding Terrorism?
Singapore prohibits supporting, funding or financing terrorist operations or failing to disclose information relating to them. Unlike direct acts of terrorism or planning terrorist activities, these are prohibited under the criminal law rather than under the ISA.
Supplying, carrying weapons for and providing technical advice to terrorists
The United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Regulations (UN Anti-Terrorism Regulations) prohibit the following acts, as well as knowingly causing, promoting, assisting, or intending to promote, assist or cause such acts:
- Directly or indirectly selling, supplying, exporting, shipping or otherwise transferring any arms and related material (e.g., weapons, ammunition, military vehicles) to terrorists.
- Carriage of arms and related materials on a ship or aircraft for terrorists.
- Providing technical advice, assistance or training related to military activities of terrorists.
- Creating a hoax that a terrorist plot has been, is being or will be carried out.
Anyone with information regarding acts prohibited under the UN Anti-terrorism Regulations must immediately inform the police.
An individual who breaches the UN Anti-terrorism Regulations (including failing to disclose information) will be liable to a fine of up to $500,000 or to imprisonment for a term of up to 10 years or to both. A non-individual, such as a company, that breaches the regulations will be liable to a fine up to $1 million.
The UN Anti-Terrorism Regulations also apply to Singapore citizens who breach them outside of Singapore.
Singapore also has strict laws against terrorism financing (i.e., the provision of money or other property and services to support terrorists) and the failure to disclose information regarding terrorism financing. This is primarily governed by the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (TSFA).
Any individual found guilty of financing terrorism can be subjected to a fine of up to $500,000 and/or to imprisonment for up to 10 years.
The TSFA also prohibits tipping off terrorists about police investigations, which can invite a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years.
Lastly, failing to disclose information relating to terrorism financing can also invite heavy penalties.
See our article on penalties for financing terrorist operations in Singapore for more details about the offences and penalties under the TSFA.
Case Studies of Persons Being Dealt with Under the ISA for Terror Attack-Related Incidents
This section details some case studies that illustrate how the various penalties under the ISA are used in various terror attack-related circumstances.
From these, we will be able to see that:
- The ISA applies regardless of what motivates someone’s violent extremist thoughts, and applies to people of any age or religion.
- The penalty issued is calibrated based on the extent of the person’s radicalisation and whether they are an imminent security threat.
- The ISA focuses on the prevention of terrorist attacks before it is too late.
Asrul Alias: Self-radicalised, but not an imminent security threat (RO)
33-year-old Asrul Alias became radicalised after viewing online religious sermons by radical preachers and videos of ISIS fighters in combat. He actively looked up information supporting ISIS, shared it on social media to spread the terror group’s radical ideology and spoke up against criticisms of ISIS online.
While he eventually stopped posting pro-ISIS material online on the advice of his family member and a close friend, he remained supportive of ISIS and continued consuming their online propaganda.
When Asrul’s radicalisation came to light, the authorities investigated him, but did not detain him further as he was not found to be an imminent security threat. Instead, they placed him on an RO for 2 years.
Asrul, like others on an RO, underwent regular religious counselling with members of the Religious Rehabilitation Group mentioned above.
Wang Yuandongyi: Left Singapore to fight ISIS (RO)
After learning about the Kurds online, 23-year-old Wang Yuandongyi left Singapore in January 2016 (planning to go to Turkey and then Syria) to fight together with a Kurdish militia that was combating ISIS.
Even though Wang Yuandongyi had left to fight against ISIS and had planned to take part in violence outside Singapore, he was considered a security threat to Singapore. As a result, he was sent back to Singapore on the request of the Singapore authorities and placed on an RO.
Upon his arrest, the Singapore government stated that it takes a stern view against anyone who supports or plans to engage in armed violence, and that it does not matter how they rationalise such violence or where it takes place. This is because anyone who does so is deemed to pose a threat to Singapore’s security.
Murad bin Mohd Said: Restriction Orders issued against a Religious Teacher and his student (RO)
46-year-old Murad bin Mohd Said was a religious teacher who taught his followers that it was compulsory to kill apostates (including those from particular sects of Islam) and that Muslims were allowed to defend themselves through “armed jihad” against “infidels who persecuted them”.
He also encouraged his students to disregard secular laws and adhere to Syariah law instead.
In May 2018, MUIS cancelled Murad’s accreditation under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) (an asatizah refers to a Muslim religious teacher), because his spreading of segregationist ideologies breached the ARS Code of Ethics.
On 5 December 2018, an RO was issued against Murad because he spread beliefs that were violent and posed a threat to Singapore’s racial and religious harmony. Murad had continued spreading these beliefs even after his ARS Accreditation was cancelled.
The MHA took issue with the fact that Murad’s binary “us vs them” worldview and violent teachings could have led to his students and followers developing extremist views, and could have caused inter- and intra-faith tensions. The MHA also noted that his statements on the primacy of Syariah law undermined Singapore’s secular nation-state system.
Murad’s student, Razali bin Abas, a 56-year-old technician, was influenced by Murad’s classes, which rendered him susceptible to other radical and violent influences he would later encounter on social media. He eventually believed that it was justified to kill those he regarded as oppressors of Islam, including non-Muslims and Shi’ites, and sought out individuals with militant-looking profiles on Facebook (whom he regarded as “heroes”). These individuals’ posts strengthened his belief in armed violence and his admiration for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.
An RO was issued against Razali in October 2018 to prevent any further radicalisation.
This case shows us that the ISA will be used against those who spread or have been radicalised by violent extremist teachings and content, even if there is no concrete plan for any terrorist attack. As mentioned earlier, the ISA is focused on preventing terrorist attacks before they even happen.
Mohammad Razif Yahya: Detained for fighting in Yemen before being released on SD (PD Order and SD)
28-year-old Mohammad Razif Yahya was detained in August 2015 under the ISA for voluntarily fighting in Yemen after he started studying at a religious institution there in January 2010. He had signed up for armed sentry duties against Houthi rebels, went through training as a sniper, was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and Dragunov rifle, and fought against the Houthis.
He was later conditionally released when it was found that he was no longer a security threat that warranted preventive detention.
Amirull Ali: Sympathised with the Palestinians in the Israel-Palestine conflict and planned to kill Jews outside a synagogue (PD Order)
Amirull Ali was a 20-year-old Singaporean who planned to attack Jews after their Saturday prayers at the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Waterloo Street, and then join Hamas’ military wing in Palestine to fight against Israel. He was the first self-radicalised individual detained under the ISA primarily driven by the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In a statement about Amirull’s case, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated that the Internal Security Department (ISD) “will take firm action against any individual in Singapore who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise such violence, or where the violence takes place”.
Amirull was detained because he posed an imminent security threat. He had made detailed plans and preparations to kill Jews in Singapore and was held back only because he was uncertain if he would achieve martyrdom in doing so.
It is worth noting that Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam clarified that there is nothing wrong with supporting the Palestinian cause. Instead, Amirull was detained because he wanted to kill innocent people.
16-year-old unnamed Singaporean Protestant Christian who planned to attack two mosques (OD)
A 16-year-old Singaporean male student was detained under the ISA after making detailed plans and preparations to conduct terrorist attacks by using a machete against Muslims at two mosques in Singapore.
He was a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity and was the first ISA detainee to be inspired by far-right extremist ideology. He was self-radicalised, being motivated by a strong aversion towards Islam and a fascination with violence.
He was influenced by the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March 2019 by Brenton Tarrant. His planning reflected a copycat attack, which was to take place on the second anniversary of Tarrant’s attack (15 March 2021). In the same way that Tarrant had prepared a manifesto, the youth had prepared two documents justifying his attack as a war against Islam.
He also considered various options (including mimicking Tarrant’s plan of setting fire to the mosques with gasoline) before settling on a machete as his attack weapon. Moreover, he prepared himself for his knifing attack by watching YouTube videos, and he was confident in being able to hit his targets’ arteries by randomly slashing at their neck and chest areas.
His detailed planning showed his determination to follow through with his attack. The youth even stated that he believed he would either be arrested before his attack or that he would execute his plan and thereafter be killed by the police.
This case is a grim reminder that violent extremism can affect all Singaporeans, regardless of age, race or religion. The fact that this case could have ended far more tragically if the authorities had not stepped in earlier also illustrates why Singapore utilises the ISA rather than the ordinary criminal legal system when dealing with threats of a terrorist nature.
How Do I Spot a Radicalised Individual and What Should I Do After That?
If you know or suspect that a person has been radicalised, do contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline as soon as possible at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).
Early reporting can allow the radicalised individual to be given proper guidance and counselling. This can prevent the individual from becoming so radicalised that he/she acts on violent extremist ideas and endangers the lives of others.
As illustrated by the case studies above, radicalisation can affect anyone. We must remain vigilant and not be influenced by radical/extremist material.
Note that if you have been detained under the ISA, you are entitled to engage a lawyer to prepare your case before the Advisory Board after the initial detention of up to 30 days.
Feel free to get in touch with one of our criminal lawyers should you need any assistance or advice.
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