A 16-year-old male Singaporean secondary school student was detained in December 2020 under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for planning and preparing to conduct a terrorist attack using a machete against Muslims at two mosques in Woodlands in Singapore.
The Protestant Christian youth of Indian ethnicity, is the first detainee to be inspired by far-right extremist ideology and the youngest individual to-date dealt with under the ISA for terrorism-related activities in Singapore.
Acting on intelligence, the authorities arrested the boy last year, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said.
Self-radicalised, he was motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence said the press release from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Singapore.
He watched the live-streamed video of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; read the manifesto of the Christchurch attacker, Brenton Harrison Tarrant (Tarrant); 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.
This is a dangerous new development.Far-right extremism is growing in many parts of the world, and seeping into Singapore as well said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam
Influenced by far-right extremism
From the attack plans and preparations it was evident that he was influenced by Tarrant’s actions and manifesto.
He planned to conduct the attack exactly two years after far-right extremist Tarrant live streamed the massacre of more than 50 Muslims at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019.
Before deciding on the machete as his attack weapon, the youth had explored various other options including an original plan to use a rifle similar to that used by Tarrant.
Despite finding a prospective seller via a private chat platform he did not follow through with the purchase when he suspected it was a scam.
He persistently searched 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.
He also explored 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.
To prepare himself for the knife attack, the youth had watched YouTube videos in order to be able to hit the arteries of his targets and had found his choice machete online but had not purchased it yet.
Although he was underage and did not know how to drive, he planned to steal his father’s credit card to rent a BlueSG electric car to travel between the two mosques. Investigations showed that he had watched videos on how to drive and how to rent a BlueSG car.
He then researched legal means of gaining access to firearms in Singapore and even considered joining the Singapore Rifle Association, but abandoned the idea given the difficulty of getting a firearm here.
Planning a Copycat attack
Firstly he planned to carry out his attacks on 15 March 2021, 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.
Secondly, like Tarrant, the youth intended to drive between the two attack sites, and therefore devised a plan to procure a vehicle to use during the attack.
Thirdly, he 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 live stream the attack, just like Tarrant.
In further imitation of Tarrant, the youth had prepared two documents that he intended to disseminate prior to his attacks.
The first was a message to the people of France, which he drafted after the attack against Christians in a church in Nice, France, on 29 Oct 2020. 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 live stream his attacks.
The second document, which was still unfinished when the youth was arrested, 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. 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”.
The detailed planning and preparation attests to the youth’s determination to follow through with his attack plan the press release said.
The youth admitted during the investigation that he could only foresee two outcomes to his plan – that he is arrested before he is able to carry out the attacks, or he executes the plan and is thereafter killed by the Police.
ISD’s investigation to-date indicates that the youth had acted alone. There was also no indication that he had tried to influence anyone with his extreme outlook or 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.
ISD said that the boy’s mother and an “appropriate adult” were present during the investigation before his arrest given his young age. He was granted family visits, even though such visits are not typically allowed in the first 30 days of such probes.
The boy will undergo a rehabilitation process that will involve religious, psychological and social counselling. Mentoring will also be provided to guide him on pro-social behaviour and arrangements made for him to continue his education while in detention.
Vigilance is key
“This case demonstrates yet again that extreme ideas can find resonance among and radicalise Singaporeans, regardless of race or religion. It is a threat to all of us and our way of life. We must remain vigilant to signs that someone around us may have become radicalised, so that we can intervene early to avert a tragedy”, ISD said.
Anyone with information in this regard should promptly contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).
MHA 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 those around you says MHA.