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Singapore's anti-terror agency warns against ‘cyber-jihad’

City state calls for a collective effort by citizens to curb a growing terrorism threat
Singapore’s state-run anti-terrorism agency is warning citizens against self-radicalized terrorism in cyberspace

Singapore’s state-run anti-terrorism agency is warning citizens against self-radicalized terrorism in cyberspace. (Photo: Unsplash)

Published: July 15, 2022 06:27 AM GMT
Updated: July 15, 2022 07:23 AM GMT

Singapore’s state-run anti-terrorism agency has warned citizens against self-radicalized terrorism in cyberspace and called for vigilance and cooperation to curb the phenomenon.

The Internal Security Department (ISD) issued the warnings as it released its Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2022, on July 13. The agency said self-radicalization remains a primary threat to the country.

“The global threat from terrorism and radicalization persists. Singapore and Singaporeans are not immune. Our strongest defense is our collective vigilance, preparedness, resilience, and unity,” the ISD said in the report.

“Globally, the relaxation of pandemic restrictions and the resumption of cross-border travel could also give rise to a surge in terrorist activities,” it said.

"Radicalised individuals may put into action attack plans conceived during the pandemic"

The report stated that foreign terrorists may make their way to new conflict zones and hotspots, while radicalised individuals may put into action attack plans conceived during the pandemic once travel bans are lifted.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 amplified interest within online far-right extremist communities, where the pro-Ukraine narrative dominates chats.

The ISD says it feels the conflict can contribute to the pro-terror idealism being peddled by transnational terror outfits like the Islamic State (ISIS) and terrorist factions within the local region.

Singapore is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Southeast Asian nation of 5.6 million. However, it has experienced the spread of radical ideologies online, fuelling the self-radicalization threat.

In April 2022, the ISD arrested a self-radicalized Singaporean who was allegedly influenced by foreign radical preachers online.

The agency says it has arrested 45 self-radicalized individuals so far — 33 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners — under the Internal Security Act. Of them, three Singaporeans and 10 foreigners have been convicted for terror financial offenses.

"No peace can ever come out of hatred and bigotry"

In December 2020, the ISD detained a 16-year-old Indian-origin Christian youth, who allegedly plotted terror attacks on two mosques on the second anniversary of a deadly mosque attack in New Zealand.

The arrest shocked Christians in Singapore, who condemned such antipathy towards other faiths.

"The Catholic Church stands firmly behind its principle of respect for all religions. Violence has no place in society, let alone misperceived martyrdom through taking the lives of others. The Church believes in religious harmony and the peaceful co-existence of all religions,” Singapore Archdiocese, which covers the entire city-state, said in a statement after the arrest.

“We must appreciate the goodness in every religion. No peace can ever come out of hatred and bigotry; hence she places a high priority on fostering religious harmony," it added.

In March 2021, a 20-year-old Singaporean Muslim soldier was arrested for planning a deadly stabbing spree against Jews after they left a synagogue after prayers.

Despite no current threats, Singapore remains a target for religious extremists, the ISD noted, referring to a “pro-IS eco-system on social media” which actively promotes radical Islamist ideology.

"They solicit donations by tapping on public sympathy for the less fortunate"

ISIS has been exploiting the virtual domain for “cyber-jihad” to spread its message easily and effectively, the ISD said. Official IS material and self-produced propaganda are circulated regularly, and extremists are often recruited through a virtual “caliphate of believers.”

In a bid to spread its message easily and effectively, ISIS has been using the virtual domain for “cyber jihad” through various media groups.

The typical process involves circulating official ISIS materials alongside self-produced propaganda. Extremists are often recruited, and a virtual “caliphate of believers” is created online.

The report states that in March 2022, neighboring Indonesia arrested five members of a prolific self-styled pro-ISIS media group, who had allegedly received instructions from ISIS Core to translate propaganda material into Bahasa Indonesia.

Online media are often used by terrorists to bring together their supporters under the guise of legitimate non-profit organisations (NPOs) to conduct financial crimes.

“They solicit donations by tapping on public sympathy for the less fortunate, such as Muslim refugees overseas, and then channel some of these funds towards terror activities,” said the ISD in its report.

In 2021, Indonesia reportedly listed at least 181 terror-linked NPOs, many of them operating online.

The agency along with other partner agencies has launched a wide range of programs to educate Singaporeans about terrorism. This includes roadshows, house visits, mobile exhibitions, and an app named SG Alert to report suspicious activities.

In 2019, the Community Response Roundtable (CRRT) was piloted, bringing representatives from schools, businesses, grassroots, religious, and other community groups within a geographical area to raise awareness about terror threats.

A 2021 survey by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) among 2,012 respondents, found that 88 percent support the collective responsibility of the government, community, and individuals to counter terrorism.

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