Singapore detains first woman citizen suspected of seeking to join Islamic State

June 13, 2017 - 10:40 AM
Singapore's financial district seen from Merlion Park. (Reuters)

Singapore said on Monday it has detained an assistant child-care worker suspected of trying to join Islamic State and to find a militant husband in Syria, and was holding her under a tough security law that allows for detention without trial.

The detention of the first Singaporean woman for suspected Islamist radicalism comes as concern is growing about the spread of Islamic State in the region. Singapore and its neighbors recently began intelligence cooperation aimed at stemming the movement of militants across their borders.

Singapore has reiterated over the past year that it is a target of Islamist groups and has urged the public to be alert.

The suspect, Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, 22, was detained this month for intending to make her way to Syria to join Islamic State of Iraq and Syria with her child, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.

“She supported ISIS’s use of violence to establish and defend its self-declared ‘caliphate’ and aspired to live in it,” the ministry said, referring to Islamic State.

Izzah, a contract assistant at an infant care center, was radicalized as early as 2013 by online propaganda with links to Islamic State and she shared pro-Islamic State material on social media.

She had also sought a militant husband in Syria, the ministry said, adding that her family had tried to talk her out of her plans but had not handed her in and had even destroyed evidence against her.

“She said that since 2015, she was looking for ‘a Salafi or an ISIS supporter’ to marry and settle down with him and her child in Syria,” the ministry said.

“She said she would support her husband if he fought for ISIS in Syria as she believed she would reap ‘heavenly rewards’ if he died in battle. With her ‘elevated status’ as a ‘martyr’s widow,’ she felt she could easily marry another ISIS fighter in Syria.”

Her parents, both Quranic teachers, and sister came to know of her radical postings in 2015.

After she was placed under investigation, important evidence was destroyed by a family member relating to her plans to join Islamic State, in order to try to cover up her acts, it said.

“They tried on their own to dissuade her but they were unsuccessful. Izzah continued down the path of radicalism. In April 2017, she boasted to a contact that the Singapore authorities had not detected her,” the ministry said.

The ministry said the authorities were looking into taking action against the family member who destroyed evidence.

“The government takes a serious view of the withholding of information that is pertinent to the safety and security of Singapore and Singaporeans,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

Arrests on the rise

The ministry declined to say how authorities came to know of her radicalism.

It said she created new social media accounts even after several of her accounts on which she shared pro-Islamic State material were taken down by administrators.

Izzah has been detained under the Internal Security Act, a colonial-era law that allows authorities to detain anyone seen as a threat to security for up to two years.

As concern grows about the spread of militancy, there has been a significant rise in the number of detentions under the law.

At least 14 radicalized Singaporeans have been put under restriction or detention orders under the ISA since 2015, up sharply from 11 cases between 2007 and 2014, according to data from the ministry.

Volunteers from a group specializing in “religious rehabilitation” offer counseling to detainees, the group says.

Singapore recently launched a campaign to urge citizens to report anyone deemed at risk of being radicalized.

Diverse, affluent Singapore is majority ethnic Chinese with sizeable minority ethnic Malay and ethnic Indian communities, and numerous foreign workers from Asia and beyond.

Singapore said late last year it had deported nearly 70 foreigners including five maids for suspected radicalism over the previous two years.

Authorities in neighboring Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, said last year they had arrested six Indonesian suspects with links to Islamic State who were plotting an attack on Singapore.