Greater risk of ISIS-inspired attacks in region due to ‘cyber jihad’: Singapore ISD

·Senior Editor
·4-min read
An unloaded Twitter website is seen on a phone without an internet connection, in front of a displayed ISIS flag in this photo illustration in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 3, 2016. Iraq is trying to persuade satellite firms to halt Internet services in areas under Islamic State's rule, seeking to deal a major blow to the group's potent propaganda machine which relies heavily on social media to inspire its followers to wage jihad. Picture taken February 3, 2016. To match Insight MIDEAST-CRISIS/IRAQ-INTERNET REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
An unloaded Twitter website in front of a displayed ISIS flag. (PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — The region is facing a greater risk of attacks by home-grown extremists who are inspired by “cyber jihad” linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), said Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) on Wednesday (13 July).

In its “Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment 2022” report, ISD flagged the continuous ability of Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS to radicalise and inspire attacks among their followers.

Through a “thriving” pro-ISIS network on social media, ISIS supporters have been circulating ISIS materials alongside self-produced propaganda. “This facilitates the radicalisation and recruitment of a virtual ‘caliphate of believers’ who remain loyal to ISIS, notwithstanding the group’s leadership losses and operational setbacks,” ISD said.

The online network also facilitates communication between regional supporters and ISIS core in Syria and Iraq including the coordination of terror activities across borders and exchange of operational knowledge like weapons-making. Regional authorities have taken action to combat this threat such as the arrest of five members of a pro-ISIS media group in Indonesia.

“As travel restrictions ease, online collaboration between extremists could manifest as real-world attacks,” ISD said.

ISIS affiliates pose the “most immediate threat” through their ability to mount ISIS-inspired attacks, with militant factions in southern Philippines persistently engaging security forces in armed clashes and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) elements in Indonesia remaining active in plotting attacks, according to ISD.

More than 1,000 Southeast Asians have travelled to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq since the mid-2010s, with at least 600 Southeast Asians reportedly still in Syria. Despite the distance, these individuals pose a security concern and could direct attacks from abroad, ISD said.

While the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is in temporary retreat, it is still a resilient threat, with ISD noting that almost 180 JI-linked suspects were arrested in Indonesia last year. JI may also revive ties with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, ISD added.

Meanwhile, the threat from far-right extremism (FRE) has overshadowed that of Islamist terrorism in some Western countries, according to ISD. In recent years, two individuals had killed a total of 33 people in separate attacks in the US. The attackers were inspired by white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

Globally, the Russian-Ukraine conflict may unite FRE elements. “Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 amplified interest within online FRE communities, where the chatter appears dominated by the pro-Ukraine narrative… FRE-aligned foreign fighters and the proliferation of surplus weapons would be likely by-products of a prolonged conflict in Ukraine,” ISD said.

Domestic front threats

ISD also noted that the self-radicalisation threat continues to be the main driver of the domestic terrorism threat in Singapore.

A total of 45 self-radicalised individuals, comprising 33 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners, have been issued with orders under the Internal Security Act since 2015. The latest case is Radjev Lal Madan Lal, a 29-year-old Singaporean who was detained under the ISA in April.

Singapore has also taken firm actions against terrorism financing-related activities.

In the past 12 months, a Singaporean and a Bangladeshi were found guilty of terrorism financing offences, bringing the total to 13 individuals who were convicted under the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act since its introduction in 2002.

While there is currently no specific intelligence of an imminent terrorist attack against Singapore, the need to stay alert to threats is critical, ISD said.

“The transnational nature of terrorism means that developments further afield, such as those in the Middle East and Afghanistan, can reverberate much closer to home. Extremists are adept at opportunistically exploiting such overseas conflicts to promote their radical narratives and recruit supporters by tapping on a diverse range of grievances.”

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