Singaporean youths react to news of 16-year-old student planning terror attack

The Internet has a part to play in self-radicalisation, but more can be done to prevent instances of potential division among Singaporeans.

Sarah Chan

Likes museum trips and is sometimes artsy. Can be found in pattern prints.

Published: 28 January 2021, 6:35 PM

On Wednesday (Jan 27), a 16-year-old Singaporean student was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for making detailed plans to conduct attacks on two mosques in Singapore.

The secondary four student had planned to attack Muslims in the Woodlands area on Mar 15. This was to coincide with the second anniversary of the Christchurch terror attacks, which he was influenced by.

He was self-radicalised and acted alone, and is the youngest person detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities to date.

We spoke to some youths about their views towards the youth’s arrest and the issue of self-radicalisation in Singapore.

Preventing stigma and stereotypes through intermingling

“I thought it was pretty shocking. The teenager’s plans were well thought out – from procuring his resources to planning the logistics – and you can tell he was extremely motivated in causing harm and suffering to the Muslim community.

“Stigma and stereotypes only happen when people do not have the first hand experience of that culture and thus might fear it. By intermingling between the different races and religions, we can better educate and prevent stereotypes from occurring and have a deeper understanding of those around us. This is important to maintain the peace in our multicultural and multi-ethnic society.” – Chelsea Mei Smith, 20, Intern

The influential role of the Internet

“News of radicalisation isn’t completely foreign even for Singaporeans, but I felt surprised and horrified that this can happen so easily. If a young 16-year-old can be radicalised and none of his family or friends knew, what’s to stop the same from happening to those around us?

“With the advent of the Internet, it is easier to take on an alter ego or promote values online that you might not dare to say out loud. This may consequently lead to more examples of self-radicalisation especially among impressionable youths.


The anonymity of users on the internet makes it easier to spread extremist and radical values. PHOTO CREDIT: KAUR KRISTJAN VIA UNSPLASH


“We need to be more conscious of our actions and those of the people around us. It is as Desmon Tutu said: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ Similarly, if we know that our friends are displaying racist attitudes or remarks, it is our duty to step in to correct them and to speak out about it.

Self-radicalisation does not happen overnight and it does not occur from an isolated incident. If we let simple things go like passing comments, then they can easily escalate into something bigger.” – Annabel Boon, 19, Intern. 

Importance of appreciating other religious customs

Being respectful and understanding of each other’s beliefs or background is important in preventing misunderstandings. PHOTO CREDIT: HANNAH BUSING VIA UNSPLASH


“It was quite alarming that there were people in Singapore with these thoughts in spite of measures taken both legally and through racial inclusivity programs. However, the fact that the boy was caught before and not after the act is a testament to the safety barriers put in place by the government and I felt safe knowing that the issue was addressed.

“Singapore already has a system where people of different faiths and religions mix together which makes us more open than other countries. While such initiatives are effective, I think placing an importance on educating people of the meaning and reason behind their respective customs will help us understand each other better.

“This will hopefully reduce the possibility of divisions or misunderstandings created between different groups of people.” – Atul Dash, 20, Undergraduate.


Staying united as a nation begins with accepting each other’s differences. PHOTO CREDIT: HELENA LOPES VIA UNSPLASH

Viewing everyone as equals

“Mindset is very important. The first step to prevent instances of racial stereotypes is acceptance. Once you have accepted and understood that we are all born as equals, staying united as a multi-ethnic country would not be an issue. But if you are not willing, there will be no progress.

“Ignorance is not always bliss. If you suspect something is amiss or the behaviour of your friends or family member is out of the ordinary, call them out.

“It is out of concern that you are looking out for your loved ones. Follow up with them by talking to them, be a listening ear or even a shoulder to cry on.” – M Darsshinni Naidu, 20, Intern.


Staying vigilant and checking in on the people around us is one way we can spot signs of self-radicalisation. PHOTO CREDIT: PRISCILLA DU PREEZ VIA UNSPLASH

Importance of education and open conversations

“Self-radicalisation could also be a result of the various stigmas and stereotypes we have of people from another ethnicity group. Hence, I believe it is crucial that we look beyond our differences and accept the fact that the world is constantly changing.

“Perhaps learning about each other’s cultures and mingling with people of other races or ethnicities would help. After all, this is the reality we live in, there is no escaping, we have to change our mindsets should we want our future to prosper.” – Valencia Chua, 19, Intern.

The Singaporean teenager will get a lawyer and attend a hearing in due course. His parents are fully involved in the case.

Written by Sarah Chan, Ruth Chan and Meagan Goh

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