S'porean youth who planned terrorist attacks to get hearing while detained, parents & lawyer involved

Shanmugam said there are “a number of reasons” why the teen was detained without trial.

Matthias Ang | Kayla Wong | January 28, 2021, 01:09 PM

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The 16-year-old Singaporean youth detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism-related activities will not be tried in court, but will get a hearing "within the rubric of the ISA", Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.

He will have a lawyer, his position will be put across, and his parents are fully involved, he added.

Speaking to reporters at the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands on Jan. 28, Shanmugam appeared to be referring to Section 11 of the ISA, which states that detainees have a right to make representations against their detention to an advisory board.

Why was the teen detained without trial?

Shanmugam further elaborated that the case is not suitable for an open trial for a number of reasons, such as Singapore's approach to foiling terrorist plots early that is different from other countries, as well as the need to avoid antagonising inter-religious tensions. He said:

"First, if you went through the criminal process and the question is what has he actually done. And then it will be argued that he hasn't done anything.

And in many countries that's part of the issue. You got to wait for them to do something. Often that's too late. And I think our people support the approach where it can be very early."

Shanmugam continued:

"Second, apart from the question of what has he done. You put him up on in the stand, he talks about how he was influenced by terrorists, his manifesto, what he has against Muslims.

Do you think that is positive for inter-racial confidence? You will get reactions from the Muslim community. You will get other people from the Christian community who listen to this and maybe somebody might think of this boy as being victimised, and you run the risk of a Christian-Muslim divide or deepening the divide.

We have taken a different route from many countries in using the Internal Security Act for these sorts of areas, and I think if you look at the record over the the last 50 plus years, you can see where we are today, in terms of racial and religious harmony, and you compare it against other countries. So it's not a theory, it's a practice."

Considerable hope for rehabilitation

In response to the media's queries, Shanmugam said that age would be a factor in deciding how the rehabilitation process should take place.

Based on reports that he has seen for he has not met the teen in person, he opined that given his age, there must be considerable hope that he can be rehabilitated.

That said, he does not think there is any doubt in ISD's mind that the teen "ought to be detained for a period".

ISD foiled multiple terrorist plots in last five years

Shanmugam further commented on the work of the ISD so far in protecting the country's security from potential terrorist attacks.

While not wanting to go into "operational details", he said the ISD has been "very effective" in disrupting plans for terrorist attacks.

He added that since 2015, they have picked up 53 individuals under the ISA for terrorism related conduct, detained 37, and issued 16 with restriction orders.

In addition, he said that over the last 20 years or so, they have prevented attacks on Singapore soil, stopped radicalised individuals from going overseas to conflict zones to fight, and disrupted radicalised foreigners who were planning to carry out attacks both here and overseas.

Shanmugam further brought up the past example of the deportation of several Bangladeshi individuals years ago after they have been found congregating in mosques and learning how to do "silent killing" without the knowledge of the mosque authorities.

While they planned to carry out their attacks back in Bangladesh, Shanmugam said the decision to deport them was taken as "who knows what they might have done in Singapore".

But he stressed that "terrorists and would-be terrorists need only to succeed once to make a major impact", which is why the authorities have to succeed every single time in intervening, disrupting and preventing the attacks.

Constant fight against extremism in name of religion

He added: "It's a continuing fight (against) far-right extremism in the name of religion."

Shanmugam also reiterated that extremism and tendency towards violence are not restricted to any race or religion, and that it is important not to typecast any group.

"We have been fortunate that our religious leaders have stood in solidarity and sent a common message across to all Singaporeans that religion stands for peace," he said.

"[We] are free to practice our faiths, at the same time, we don't attack each other."

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Top image by Matthias Ang