'He was prepared to die', says Shanmugam of 16-year-old who planned terrorist attacks on mosques

Singapore is not immune to extremist ideologies.

Sulaiman Daud | January 27, 2021, 10:10 PM

"It was quite chilling," said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, describing the interview of a 16-year-old Singaporean who planned to carry out terrorist attacks against Muslims in local mosques.

"He told ISD that he saw only two outcomes for his plans. One, he could get arrested before he carries them out, or two, he will be killed by the Police while he was executing his plans.

So, he went in fully prepared, knowing that he is going to die, and he was prepared to die."

Youth made extensive preparations for terrorist attack

The youth, who was interviewed by the Internal Security Department (ISD) and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), is the youngest person in Singapore to have been detained for terrorism-related activities.

He had made extensive plans and preparations to attack the Assyafaah and Yusof Ishak mosques, including buying a tactical vest from Carousell, intending to buy a machete from Carousell, and planning to steal his father's credit card to drive a Blue SG car to drive from one attack site to the other.

Carousell has since said in a statement that knives not intended for home and domestic purposes are not allowed to be sold on its marketplace, and have been taken down.

Prior to his attempt to get a machete, the youth tried to buy a gun online, and also considered making a bomb and using gasoline to burn down the mosques.

Inspired by extremist far-right ideology

According to ISD, the youth was inspired by extremist, far-right ideology and harboured a deep hatred for Muslims.

He was fascinated with violence, and frequented online platforms that shared gore-filled materials.

In particular, he watched the livestream video of Brenton Tarrant killing Muslim men, women and children in the March 2019 terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The youth's plans were inspired by Tarrant's, including his intention to livestream the attack and obtain a gun similar to Tarrant's.

He is currently undergoing rehabilitation.

ISD has to succeed every time

During a door stop interview with the media on Jan. 27, Shanmugam traced the links of spreading far-right extremism.

The youth was inspired by Tarrant, who was inspired by the murders committed by Dylan Roof in the U.S. and Anders Breivik in Norway. Tarrant also inspired Patrick Crusius who killed 22 people with a gun in El Paso, U.S.

While Singapore has strict gun-control laws, Shanmugam said it was not easy to prevent attackers using weapons like knives and machetes "every time."

Ever since the Nov. 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France, the authorities have been enhancing their counter-terrorism capabilities. Shanmugam credited the ISD for being "extremely effective" in foiling attacks by picking out suspects.

However, he added:

"In the end, they have to succeed only once, but ISD has to succeed every single time. So far, everything is peaceful, people carry on with their lives, because ISD has been extremely effective.

But you know, how do we weed out or find out every single person who wants to do something like this?"

Government's tough stance on hate speech

Shanmugam reiterated the government's commitment to protecting citizens from violence, regardless of their religious beliefs or "sexual inclinations."

He also defended the government's tough approach to hate speech, saying that demonising groups have "real world consequences", even through heavy metal music, in an apparent reference to the Watain incident.

Shanmugam added that while instances of online radicalisation are not in large numbers in Singapore, we are not immune to it either.

Other reactions

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Masagos Zulkifli, and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Edwin Tong, also commented on the case.

Masagos said he was "deeply concerned", and urged people not to pass judgement on one another and invest time and effort to build ties across our multi-racial and religious society.

Tong said he was "dismayed" at the news, called on the public to stand strong against hatred and enmity, and work harder to exercise discernment and vigilance when seeking information online.
Top image by Sulaiman Daud.