Members of so-called Islamic State allegedly say they regard Singapore as part of its proposed Asean caliphate or region, which has been interpreted as evidence that the city-state could increasingly become a target for attacks.
Security specialist Jasminder Singh said that social-media sites had mentioned Singapore as one of the countries within the group’s proposed “wilayah” or province in Southeast Asia. In a paper, published by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, he argued that Islamic State was eyeing Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, southern Thailand, Myanmar and even Japan.
“For foreign fighters coming into the region, this gives them an idea of what they will be in for, and what the targets are,” Singh told The Straits Times.
Singh said the ongoing Marawi siege on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where Philippine forces are struggling to retake the city from Isis-affiliated militants, could send shock waves around the region.
The violence could “motivate other groups” in Asean to carry out similar strikes, Singh wrote.
Singapore traditionally uses security challenges as an excuse to distract residents from domestic, political issues, like the bitter public feud surrounding Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings.
Remy Mahzam of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research said that Islamists might look to fight elsewhere if they could no longer reach Syria or choose to carry out attacks in their home countries.
Dr Rohan Gunaratna of the centre said that the territorial boundaries of the East Asian wilayah were vague, adding: “The growth of the IS threat in Singapore’s immediate neighbourhood presents a threat to security and stability here.”
The Singaporean Ministry of Home Affairs said this month that the threat was at “severe”, its highest level in recent years. The UK Foreign Office warned citizens that “terrorists are likely to carry out attacks in Singapore”.
In the last month, Singapore has detained two auxiliary police officers suspected of trying to conduct Islamist violence overseas. One of them, Muhammad Khairul bin Mohamed, 24, was issued with a detention order under the Internal Security Act, which allows the police to hold suspects without trial.
An infant care assistant, Syaikhah Izzah Al Ansari, 22, was detained on allegations that she was planning to travel to Syria to marry a member of Islamic State.
Indonesia’s intelligence services claim there are sleeper cells in every region in Indonesia. Isis was blamed for a grenade attack on a Malaysian nightclub last year.
An Isis fighter carrying the group’s flag above the town of Dabiq, Syria, in 2014. Picture credit: Wikimedia