July 25, 2023
SINGAPORE – Terror threats in the region have persisted over the past year, and extremist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) view Singapore as a prized target for attacks, the authorities warned.
In its annual report on terrorism, Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) also flagged how conflicts in Europe and the Middle East mean that the Republic’s interests may be impacted.
ISD, the national agency in charge of monitoring and addressing potential security threats, said in its annual Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report that South-east Asian ISIS supporters have incited one another to undertake violence in a “virtual caliphate” that is taking place on social media.
“Singapore remains a prized target and continues to be featured in ISIS propaganda,” said the report, which was released on Monday.
ISD said that the central message of defending oppressed Muslims continues to have traction online.
In June, ISIS supporters in the region went on social media to call for retaliatory attacks to avenge the death of Islamic State East Asia Province leader Abu Zacharia. They also circulated a poster that identified several government leaders in South-east Asia, including President Halimah Yacob, as targets.
Abu Zacharia, who was also known as Faharudin Hadji Satar, was killed during a pre-dawn raid in the south of the Philippines on June 14.
Elsewhere in the region, Indonesian supporters have been widely sharing translations of ISIS spokesman Abu Umar al-Muhajir’s speech in September 2022, said ISD. The agency said that these translations urge supporters around the world, including those in South-east Asia, to continue fighting for ISIS’ cause.
ISD also said that the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror cell poses a long-term security concern to the region. JI has been lying low as the Indonesian authorities have taken pre-emptive strikes against the group since 2019. But the group quietly continues to seed ground support for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the region, warned ISD.
“This has included efforts to infiltrate Indonesian political parties and exploit the democratic process, which may intensify in the lead-up to the Indonesian general election in 2024,” the department said, referring to the elections on Feb 14, 2024.
ISD highlighted how in April the authorities in Indonesia disrupted a JI militant cell in Lampung, located in the south of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The cell had amassed weapons for an attack on the police, which the department said is an indication that some JI elements are keen to engage in armed conflict.
Highlighting the global nature of the terrorism threat, ISD said that online propaganda efforts may have also linked ISIS-affiliated elements in the Middle East to their South-east Asian supporters.
Given that the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and heightened tensions in the Middle East “have highlighted concerns that state actors and their proxies may also engage in terrorist modus operandi against their adversaries”, including in third-party countries, there is a risk Singapore interests may be caught in the crossfire, ISD said.
ISD cited the example of how on Nov 15, 2022, a commercial oil tanker operated by a Singapore-based shipping company was reportedly struck by an unmanned aerial vehicle off the coast of Oman.
The possibility that such attacks may be carried out against civilians outside conflict zones, in third-party countries, cannot be discounted, said the department.
It noted how there have been a number of recent incidents targeting Israeli and Jewish interests. ISD flagged how on March 27, Greek police arrested two Iran-born Pakistani nationals for planning terrorist attacks against targets, including a Jewish community centre in Athens.
Israel has said Iranian-funded militia Hizbollah is responsible for a roadside bomb attack that wounded a motorist in Israel in March. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hizbollah, which claims to represent Lebanon’s Shi’ite Muslims, has since continued to ratchet up his anti-Israel rhetoric.
“While there is currently no indication of an imminent threat to Singapore, vigilance is advised, given that Hizbollah had carried out surveillance of the Singapore coastline and plotted to attack United States and Israeli ships in the Singapore Strait in the 1990s,” said ISD.