Singapore mosques, worshippers react to teen’s attack plans

ANNABELLE LIANG
·2-min read

SINGAPORE (AP) — Two Singapore mosques that authorities said were the targets of a planned terrorist attack by a 16-year-old student stayed open Thursday as police stepped up patrols in the area.

Staff at the Assyafaah Mosque and Yusof Ishak Mosque in northern Singapore said already-frequent patrols had been tightened.

Singapore authorities on Wednesday said they had detained without trial an ethnic Indian Christian teen who was preparing to launch “terrorist attacks” on the mosques with a machete.

He was inspired by an Australian white supremacist who killed 51 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand in 2019, the Internal Security Department said.

Muslim and Christian leaders met at one of the targeted mosques Thursday to signal their mutual understanding and trust in the island nation of 5.7 million.

Worshippers continued to visit the mosques on Thursday, although some said on a private Facebook group that they were hesitant about bringing their children, a staff member said on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Muhammad Aref said his family and friends were “in shock” but were continuing their daily visits to mosques.

“It reminded us of the New Zealand Christchurch attacks. But we were quite calm, there were no protests because we were confident (in) Singapore’s defense system,” the civil servant said. “We feel that in Singapore’s context, it is an isolated case. It brings worry but not that much.”

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore said the case highlights the threat of online radicalization, and condemned acts of terror and violence “which have no place in any religion.”

“These acts will tear communities apart,” it said in a statement Wednesday.

The National Council of Churches said it wished to “assure our Muslim friends that there is no animosity between our communities” and that it remains committed to defeating hatred and violence.

Rohan Gunaratna, a security studies professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the government has built a close relationship with the Muslim community and its leadership since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

“Singaporean Muslims trust the Singapore government to protect them from threats,” Gunaratna said.

“Terrorist mastery of cyberspace presents a growing challenge," he said. "Governments worldwide need to catch up to counter the growing terrorist presence in cyberspace.”

Since 2015, seven people younger than 20 have been detained or restricted under Singapore's Internal Security Act, according to AMP Singapore, a non-profit group serving the Muslim community.

The teenage suspect was not identified because he is underage. The Internal Security Department said he was “self-radicalized, motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence.”