A 16-year-old Singaporean was detained in December last year under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for allegedly drawing up “detailed plans and preparations” to attack Muslims at two mosques in Singapore using a machete, said the Internal Security Department (ISD) on Wednesday (27 January).
According to the ISD in a statement today, the youth, who is a Protestant Christian of Indian ethnicity, “is the first detainee to be inspired by far-right extremist ideology” and the youngest individual so far to be detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities.
Brenton Tarrant, the Australian gunman singlehandedly responsible for the Christchurch mosque massacre that took 51 lives in March 2019, had purportedly influenced the youth’s views.
The ISD said that the youth had watched the live-stream of the attack and read Tarrant’s manifesto.
“He had also watched Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda videos, and came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers,” the ISD explaiined, in highlighting the youth’s “strong antipathy towards Islam”.
The youth, said ISD, had planned to carry out his attacks on 15 March this year, on the anniversary of the Christchurch attacks.
“He chose Assyafaah Mosque and Yusof Ishak Mosque as his targets, because they were near his home. He conducted online reconnaissance and research on both mosques to prepare for the attack,” the ISD added.
The youth had also allegedly planned to drive between the two attack sites and created a plan to obtain a vehicle for that purpose.
He had also reportedly “bought a tactical vest from an online platform, and intended to adorn the vest with right-wing extremist symbols, and modify it so that he could strap on his mobile device to livestream the attack”, in a bid to replicate Tarrant’s Christchurch attack, said the ISD.
Prior to settling on the machete, the youth had considered using a rifle similar to that used by Tarrant, the ISD noted.
“He managed to find a prospective seller via a private chat platform, but did not follow through with the purchase when he suspected it was a scam.
“He nevertheless persisted to search for firearms online, and only gave up the idea when he realised that it would be difficult to get his hands on one, given Singapore’s strict gun-control laws,” said the ISD.
The youth had also experimented with making a Triacetone Triperoxide (TATP) bomb and “mimicking Tarrant’s plan of setting fire to the mosques with gasoline”.
“He eventually dropped both ideas due to logistical and personal safety concerns,” according to the ISD.
In the process of preparing himself for the machete attacks he was planning to carry out, the youth had apparently watched YouTube videos on how to do so, said the ISD.
The ISD said that the youth “was confident that he would be able to hit the arteries of his targets by randomly slashing at the neck and chest areas”.
“At the point of his arrest by ISD, the youth had found his choice machete on Carousell but had not purchased it yet,” the ISD added.
Further following the footsteps of Tarrant, said the ISD, the youth had prepared two documents which he intended to disseminate before carrying out his planned attacks.
The first was a message to the people of France — drafted after the attack against Christians in a church in the city of Nice on 29 October last year.
“In the message, he called on the French people to “stand up for what is right”, claiming that “we cannot let them [i.e. Muslims] lurk in our bushes and wait for them to attack”.
“He referred to his intended attacks as a “massacre”, an “act of vengeance” and a “call for war” against Islam. He also referred to readers as a “great audience”, in reference to his intention to livestream his attacks,” according to the ISD.
The second document, yet to be completed at the time of the youth’s arrest, was “a manifesto detailing his hatred for Islam and his belief that “violence should never be solved with peace”, because peace, while “moral”, is “nowhere near effective” as violence”, said the ISD.
The ISD added: “He also expressed hope that “my act of extremism or some would call ‘a justifiable act of violence.’ … would cause a change in those who believe that Islamic extremism is right”. The draft borrowed heavily from Tarrant’s manifesto and referred to Tarrant as a “saint” and the Christchurch attacks as a “justifiable killing of Muslims”.
According to the ISD, the youth had allegedly confessed during investigations that he was only able to see two outcomes to his plan: either risking an arrest prior to even carrying out the attacks, or being “killed by the Police” when he carries out his plan.
Highlighting the isolated nature of the youth’s actions, the ISD said that its investigation did not reveal any attempt at influencing others with his extreme outlook or to involve others in his attack plans.
“His immediate family and others in his social circles were not aware of his attack plans and the depth of his hatred for Islam,” said the ISD.
The youth’s case, said the ISD, “demonstrates yet again that extreme ideas can find resonance among and radicalise Singaporeans, regardless of race or religion”.
ISD urged the public to stay alert to suspicious items and individuals and to inform the authorities by calling 999, sending an SMS to 71999 or using the “Report” function in the SGSecure application.
Members of the public are also encouraged to familiarise themselves with SGSecure advisories such as “Run, Hide, Tell” and “Press, Tie, Tell”. These advisories provide important information on what to do in the event of a terror attack, and how to render first aid to others in their immediate surroundings.
Commenting on The Straits Times’ Facebook post on the issue, one Muslim netizen hopes that the authorities would still take into account the youth’s age in dealing with him.
“Im muslim and i don’t wanna see he (sic) get punishment he should be educated,” they said.
A couple of other commenters held the same view, preferring rehabilitation over retribution against the youth.
One commenter, however, praised the ISD for “preventing such a vile act from happening”, adding that it is due to state surveillance that the authorities are “able to prevent” such acts from recurring.
One commenter urged the authorities to investigate which church the youth attends to see if it is imparting “extreme views” or “have influenced him”.
A couple of commenters called for greater security measures to be implemented in places of worship, including prohibiting big bags and enforcing mandatory deployment of armed security forces in such places.