Europe's Cartoon Row Beheading Forces Singapore to Launch Intense Investigation Including Migrants

Singapore deports 16 foreigners for inciting communal unrest including one Bangladeshi who funded terrorists and wanted to carry out attacks back home

Following terrorist attacks in France and Austria, Singapore has been on high alert. This comes after an Islamic fundamentalist beheaded a French teacher named Samuel Paty for sharing a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad that was published by Charlie Hebdo with his students. The city-state's Internal Security Department (ISD) has carried out investigations into 37 individuals for probable links to terrorism, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Tuesday (Nov 24).

Following Paty's death, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the attacks and said that he was killed because of teaching freedom of speech. Macron's stance was seen as defending Charlie Hebdo's cartoons and inciting anti-Islamic sentiments. That was followed by a spat of "Islamic terrorist" attacks in France and Austria. Another knife attack was carried out in Saudi Arabia on the French Embassy.

That prompted many countries to heighten security alert and Singapore was prompt to take action. The ISD has been monitoring social media platforms for inciting any kind of violence in the name of religion. However, the ministry hasn't found any evidence to suggest that the country could be under attack or witness any protests. The ministry is, however, vigilant in identifying possible radicalization.

Singapore police
Singapore police has launched investigation into suspected radicalized individuals for intending to incite communal unrest (representational image) Reuters

"Since the re-publication of caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad by French magazine Charlie Hebdo on Sep 1, 2020, there has been a spate of terrorist attacks in France. In addition, a palpable anti-France climate has developed in several countries, as seen in large protests and calls for boycotts, as well as an uptick in terrorist rhetoric online," the MHA said.

16 Foreigners Deported

During the investigations, the ISD and Singapore Police Force (SPF) have investigated 37 people including foreigners and Singaporeans who were suspected of radical leanings. Some of them also had made comments on social media platforms to "incite violence or stoke communal unrest," MHA said.

Of them, 23 were foreigners including a Malaysian who wanted to join the armed violence in Syria or Palestine while 15 were Bangladeshi migrant workers with workpass in the construction sector. All 16 of the foreigners have been deported for supporting the beheading of Paty. They had also made anti-France and anti-Macron remarks.

Ahmed Faysal
Ahmed Faysal was arrested and deported by Singapore authorities for funding terrorists and sharing Islamic terrorist propaganda supporting armed violence Singapore MHA

One Bangladeshi Migrant Worker Arrested

One of the Bangladeshi migrant workers, Ahmed Faysal, was arrested under the Internal Security Act for supporting "terrorism-related activities" earlier this month, the MHA said. While the 26-year-old was not linked to the terror attacks in France, he was radicalized by online propaganda of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Faysal, who moved to Singapore in 2017 to work in the construction industry, bought knives to carry out attacks in Bangladesh against Hindu police officers. He created fake social media accounts to avoid detection and share posts that promoted armed violence ISIS propaganda.

In 2019, he switched his allegiance to Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an Islamic militant group that intended to fight to establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria. Faysal even donated funds to the group to benefit its cause in Syria. The MHA revealed that besides backing ISIS and HTS, Faysal also expressed his support for other terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab which is based in Somalia.

Ahmed Faysal purchased knives to carry out attacks in Bangladesh Singapore MHA

"He was attracted to ISIS' goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in Syria and wanted to travel there to fight alongside ISIS against the Syrian government. He believed that he would be a martyr if he died while doing so," the MHA said.

During interrogation, Faysal also told the Singapore authorities that Muslims were duty-bound to engage in jihad and that he was intending to travel to Kashmir to fight against Indian forces and the government, who he believed were enemies of Islam. He spent his time watching videos of firearms. However, MHA said that there was no indication that he intended to carry out attacks in Singapore.

The other individuals are still under investigation. Meanwhile, the MHA has enhanced security measures and patrols. "These recent developments in Europe and Singapore remind us that the threat of terrorism is still alive, notwithstanding the military defeat of ISIS and the dismantling of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The Home Team remains vigilant and will not hesitate to take firm action against any individual who advocates violence," the MHA said.