January 12, 2023
SINGAPORE – A 38-year-old Ministry of Education (MOE) teacher has been detained for planning to travel to Palestine and engage in armed jihad.
Mohamed Khairul Riduan Mohamed Sarip was arrested in October 2022 under the Internal Security Act, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said on Wednesday. He was influenced by radical videos online, including the teachings of foreign preachers.
He is the first public servant to have been dealt with for terrorism-related offences, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said on Wednesday.
“We have made clear our policy that if you think of going abroad to fight for any cause, we will arrest you and we have a zero-tolerance approach,” he said. “We have arrested others who have similarly thought of going to fight.”
ISD said in a statement that Khairul, who is a Singaporean, was ready to travel to Gaza, Palestine, to carry out armed violence. To avoid detection, he had planned to pretend he was rendering humanitarian aid.
Khairul intended to join Hamas and its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB), and take part in armed combat against the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), it added.
He was willing to abide by any instructions given by Hamas, including taking part in armed combat, kidnapping and even executing prisoners of war. He was confident of applying the weapons-handling skills and fieldcraft acquired during his national service, which he served from 2004 to 2006, to engage in armed combat, said ISD.
“Khairul was certain that he would achieve martyrdom if he were to die while performing armed jihad,” said ISD.
He was willing to provide medical aid to Hamas and AQB soldiers using the basic first-aid skills he had acquired. He also attempted to learn Arabic to communicate with Hamas and AQB soldiers when in Gaza.
“He believed that Hamas and AQB were the legitimate defenders of the Palestinians and that their acts of violence against the IDF were justified in Islam,” said ISD.
ISD said Khairul also considered being a spokesman and international recruiter for Hamas, and was prepared to facilitate the travel of any individuals interested in joining the armed conflict.
“He believed that it was his religious obligation to ‘spread the truth’ about the conflict, and intended to report on the situation in Gaza if he managed to travel there,” said ISD. “He was convinced that providing first-hand updates of the conflict on social media would increase the credibility of his postings and encourage others to join Hamas.”
ISD said that apart from supporting armed violence, Khairul had also tried, unsuccessfully, to influence his family members and children to adopt his segregationist and hardline religious beliefs.
For example, he shared videos of lectures by radical Indian preacher Zakir Naik on his Facebook page, including one in which Zakir stated that Muslims should not wish Christians “Merry Christmas”. He also forbade his children from celebrating birthdays.
ISD said its investigations so far showed that Khairul had acted alone and there was no sign he tried to involve others in his plans to travel to Gaza to carry out armed violence. There is also no indication thus far that Khairul harboured any intention to carry out attacks in Singapore.
Mr Shanmugam said that investigations have not turned up evidence that Khairul had tried to influence his students on his beliefs, such as towards armed violence or in support of Hamas.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said in response to queries that Khairul has not been teaching any classes since October 2022.
“This case reflects the ever-present dangers of radicalisation, including online radicalisation, which all of us must remain vigilant against,” said the ministry. “MOE regards this case very seriously and will continue to work closely with ISD and the community to safeguard our schools and students against such threats.”
In response to queries from The Straits Times, an ISD spokesman said prior to Khairul, it had investigated other public servants for suspected radicalisation but none of them was serious enough to be dealt with under the ISA.
“Some were assessed to be vulnerable or in nascent stages of radicalisation, and they were issued with warnings and sent for religious counselling,” she said.
ISD said Khairul’s interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict began in 2007 after he viewed Facebook videos that purportedly showed Israeli acts of aggression against Palestinians, including women and children.
His subsequent online research into the conflict entrenched his belief that the Israelis, particularly the IDF, were oppressing the Palestinians.
He was further convinced of the need to engage in armed defence of the Palestinians after he watched videos by radical foreign preachers such as Ahmed Deedat and Zakir, which discussed the concept of armed jihad in defence of Islam.
Ahmed, who died in 2005, was barred from entering Singapore in 1982 after making inflammatory speeches here and inciting local Muslims to be militant against other groups. Zakir, his protege, has been barred from entering Singapore since 2014 for his segregationist and extremist teachings.
Khairul had first considered travelling to Gaza in 2012 after coming across a poster on Facebook calling for volunteers for a humanitarian mission to Gaza. Titled Panggilan Jihad! (Call to Jihad!), the poster indicated that Hamas and AQB were waiting for the volunteers.
While he did not follow through on this intention in 2012, ISD said Khairul would feel compelled to travel to Gaza whenever the conflict escalated, such as in 2014 and 2021. But he did not do so each time as Israel had closed its borders to Gaza in 2014, while Covid-19 restrictions prevented him from travelling in 2021.
“Nonetheless, Khairul continues to harbour hopes of travelling to Gaza, and admitted that he would be motivated to act should the situation deteriorate further,” said ISD.
ISD said Khairul had made preparations to travel to Gaza since 2012, with the aim of establishing contact with Hamas and AQB upon his arrival. He researched travel routes and flights to Gaza, and sought the advice of foreign individuals who were either based in or intended to travel to Gaza. He also researched intensively into Hamas and AQB, including viewing materials on their tactics and operations, ISD added.
ISD said he was issued an Order of Detention under the Internal Security Act with effect from Nov 30, 2022. “Given his deeply entrenched radical beliefs and support for armed violence, Khairul poses an imminent threat and has been issued an Order of Detention,” it said.
Firm action against anyone intent on armed violence
Firm action will be taken against any individual in Singapore who supports, promotes, undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise such violence, or where the violence takes place, ISD said on Wednesday. “This is particularly so if the person involved is a public servant,” it said.
ISD said it has been working with other government agencies and community partners to reach out to different segments in the community to raise public awareness of the threat of terrorism and online radicalisation.
In particular, MOE has been a key partner since 2007 to reach out to educators, students and youth.
In view of the growing trend of youth radicalisation, such outreach efforts have been intensified in recent years, it added. Eight self-radicalised Singaporeans aged between 16 and 20 have been issued with Orders of Detention or Restriction Orders (RO) under the ISA since 2015.
In 2022, ISD organised at least 69 counter-terrorism or counter-radicalisation outreach events, both online and in-person, for more than 2,300 participants, including student leaders, educators and other school staff.
Restriction orders against three Singaporeans allowed to expire
Separately, ISD said on Wednesday that ROs under the ISA against three Singaporeans were allowed to lapse upon expiry as they had shown good progress in their rehabilitation.
One of them, Mohamed Rashid Zainal Abidin, 63, is a former Jemaah Islamiyah member who was detained in May 2006 and released on an RO in May 2014. His RO was allowed to lapse in May 2022.
Dian Faezah Ismail, 40, a self-radicalised individual who supported the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was issued with an RO in August 2016. Her RO was allowed to lapse in August 2022.
The last person is Razali Abas, 60, a self-radicalised individual who supported the use of armed violence against the perceived enemies of Islam and who was issued with an RO in October 2018. His RO was allowed to lapse in October 2022.
People with ROs are not allowed to change their residence or employment or travel out of Singapore without the approval of the Director of ISD. They also cannot access the Internet or social media, issue public statements, or be a member of any organisation, association or group, among other restrictions, without the approval of the Director of ISD.