MOE teacher, 38, detained under ISA for plans to carry out acts of violence in Israel-Palestine conflict

The teacher was arrested in October and issued a detention order under the ISA in November 2022.

Gawain Pek | January 11, 2023, 06:30 PM

A Ministry of Education (MOE) teacher, Mohamed Khairul Riduan bin Mohamed Sarip, 38, was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Oct. 2022 for wanting to travel to Gaza to join HAMAS and its military wing, as well as Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB).

The teacher was later issued an Order of Detention under the ISA with effect from Nov. 30, 2022.

This is the first case where a national school teacher and public servant has been detained under the ISA for terrorist-related activities, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam confirmed with the media on Wednesday (Jan. 11).

Khairul is the second person to be detained for wanting to carry out armed violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Interest in conflict started in 2007

In 2007, Khairul grew interested in the Middle Eastern conflict after viewing Facebook videos on purported acts of aggression by the Israelis against Palestinians, according to an Internal Security Department (ISD) press release.

From the videos, he developed a strong desire to defend and support the Muslims in Gaza.

Khairul was further convinced of the need to carry out the armed defence of Palestine after watching videos by radical foreign preachers, Ahmed Deedat and Zakir Naik.

In 2012, the thought of going to Gaza entered Khairul's mind after coming across a poster on Facebook titled "Panggilan Jihad!" (which translates to "Call to Jihad!").

The poster called for volunteers for a humanitarian mission to Gaza, and indicated that HAMAS and AQB were waiting for the volunteers.

He did not follow through with the thought then.

However, since 2012, Khairul made preparations for his travel to Gaza.

He researched travel routes and flights to Gaza, sought advice of foreign individuals who were either based in Gaza or planned to travel there.

He planned to undertake the travel under the guise of providing humanitarian aid to avoid security scrutiny.

Each time the Israel-Palestinian conflict escalated, such as in 2014 and 2021, Khairul would feel compelled to travel to Gaza.

In both years, Khairul's plans were scuttled by travel restrictions, first due to conflict in 2014 and later due to the pandemic in 2021.

Was ready to carry out violent acts

Shanmugam shared that Khairul conducted extensive research into the tactics and operations of HAMAS and AQB, studied Arabic to help him better communicate with their soldiers, and was willing to carry out acts of violence on their behalf.

Such acts included "armed fighting, kidnapping and even executing prisoners of war".

Khairul also explored being a spokesperson and international recruiter for HAMAS.

He had also wanted to provide medical aid to HAMAS and AQB soldiers as he had basic first aid training.

"Khairul believed that his weapon handling skills and training that he had gotten from national service would help him," Shanmugam said.

ISD also shared that the teacher held "segregationist and hard-line religious beliefs", and "attempted without success" to influence family members and children to hold such views.

Acted alone, no intentions for attacks in Singapore

ISD revealed that its investigation to-date shows that Khairul had acted alone.

There was also no sign that he attempted to involve others in his plans to travel to Gaza to engage in armed violence.

There is also no indication that Khairul harboured intentions to carry out attacks in Singapore.

ISD also revealed that while Khairul's past plans did not materialise due to circumstance, he "remains committed" to travelling to Gaza should there be another escalation of conflict there.

As such, Khairul was issued an Order of Detention under the Internal Security Act with effect from Nov. 30, 2022.

Not teaching classes since Oct. 2022: MOE

In a statement from MOE, a spokesperson said that Khairul had not been teaching classes since Oct., 2022.

"This case reflects the ever-present dangers of radicalisation, including online radicalisation, which all of us must remain vigilant against," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that MOE regards this case "very seriously" and will work closely with ISD and the community to "safeguard our schools and students" against such threats.

Can support causes, but armed violence plans "unacceptable": Shanmugam

Responding to media queries, Shanmugam recognised that there are many causes that people "feel strongly about", including the "Palestinian cause".

"Singaporeans can, they do, take views on these causes", the minister said.

Shanmugam pointed out ways in which support can be shown.

He referenced a 2021 Facebook post by Minister of State for National Development Muhammed Faishal Ibrahim, in which Faishal shared how Singaporeans can help Palestinians through humanitarian aid.

However, Shanmugam emphasised that armed violence is "different" and "unacceptable".

"What we cannot do is support terrorism, support armed conflict and plan to kill people," Shanmugam said.

Top image via Isaac Wong