A general view of the financial business district is seen in Singapore on Nov. 19. (Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP)
A senior church official has expressed concern in the wake of the arrest of a Bangladeshi worker on terror charges and the deportation of 15 others from Singapore for inflammatory anti-France posts on social media.
A total of 37 individuals — 14 Singaporeans and 23 foreigners — were detained and interrogated in Singapore in recent weeks as part of intensified security measures following terror attacks on France and elsewhere, Singapore’s ministry of home affairs (MHA) said on Nov. 24.
Out of the detainees, 16 foreigners — 15 Bangladeshi and one Malaysian — were deported following completion of investigations.
MHA officials said those arrested were involved in suspected radical activities and posts on social media that could incite violence or communal unrest. The majority of them supported the beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty by a suspected extremist and other terror attacks in France and elsewhere.
Immigration officials at Shah Jalal International Airport in Dhaka confirmed that Bangladeshi deportees, mostly construction workers in Singapore, reached the country in the early hours of Nov. 25.
Earlier, on Nov. 2, another Bangladeshi construction worker, Ahmed Faysal, 26, was arrested and jailed in Singapore under the Internal Security Act for terrorism-related activities.
Faysal, a Muslim from eastern Bangladesh, moved to Singapore in 2017 and started working for a building products company. His radicalization started in 2018 when he was influenced by radical materials online supporting global jihadist outfit Islamic State (ISIS).
He is accused of intending to carry out acts of armed violence in support of his religion. He disseminated pro-ISIS propaganda in English and Bengali featuring oppression of Muslims around the world and encouraged Bangladeshi Muslims to take up arms as part of the resistance, using fake social media accounts to hide his identity.
He intended to move to Syria to join ISIS and bought several knives in Singapore that he intended to take back to Bangladesh to carry out attacks on police officers from the minority Hindu community.
Bangladeshi counterterrorism officials said they have been looking at details of Faysal and 15 deported workers following media reports.
Father Anthony Sen, a member of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, expressed dismay over the latest incidents.
“The arrest and deportation of workers for radical thoughts and acts tarnish the image of Bangladesh globally. The same thing has happened in Singapore and other countries including India and Malaysia earlier,” Father Sen said.
This is not the first time Bangladeshi workers have been accused of radicalism and deported from Singapore.
In 2016, the city-state expelled 26 Bangladeshi migrant workers after they were found to be members of a closed Islamic study group that allegedly subscribed to extremist teachings of radical ideologues like Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-Yemeni Islamic lecturer linked to al-Qaeda. They were allegedly plotting to carry out nefarious activities in Bangladesh and other countries.
“This is a matter of grave concern and Bangladeshi authorities need to take the issue seriously. It is important for immigration and police officials to check details and background of workers before they are cleared,” Father Sen said.
“Radicalism has been a serious problem for Bangladesh in recent times, and the state and society need to be constantly vigilant to tackle the threat, both at home and abroad.”
Dhaka-based security analyst and retired brigadier general M. Shakhawat Hossain echoed similar concerns.
“Radicalization is a process that takes time, and if we are careful we can curb it beforehand. Radicalism among migrant workers is not a new phenomenon and it is a warning for our related state agencies that there are still lapses in existing procedures of migration which must be tackled,” Hossain said.
The deportation of workers also triggered debate on social media and divided opinion. “Outrage as people are punished for expressing freedom of speech,” said one post.
Others warned Bangladeshi workers against posting inflammatory comments. “Refrain from making radical posts on social media. If you lose your job and get deported, nobody will take responsibility for you and your family,” said Tonmoy Ahmed.
Bangladesh has about 8 million migrant workers, mostly in Middle East countries, who remit about US$15 billion annually and make vital contributions to the economy.