SINGAPORE – Police in Singapore have detained a preschool assistant who shared pro-Islamic State group materials online and intended to travel to Syria, their first arrest of a female Singaporean citizen alleged to be a sympathizer of the radical group, the Home Affairs Ministry said Monday.
The ministry issued a statement saying that 22-year-old Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was arrested earlier this month under the country's Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without trial. Singaporean authorities since 2015 have detained 14 Singaporean males suspected of being Islamic State group sympathizers.
Singapore's immediate neighbors, Indonesia and Malaysia, have large Muslim populations, and hundreds of Islamic State group sympathizers are estimated to have traveled to Syria from the two countries. Singapore, an island nation of 5.6 million people, is a multicultural society dominated by ethnic Chinese. Ethnic Malays, who are predominantly Muslim, make up 15 percent of its citizens.
While the country hasn't experienced any attacks linked to Islamist militants, "a handful" of Singaporeans are believed to be fighting alongside militants in Syria, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said.
The ministry statement said Izzah had been "radicalized in 2013 by online propaganda related to the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" and in turn posted materials on social media supporting the group. "Several of her social media platforms were taken down by administrators because of the pro-ISIS content, but she created new ones," the ministry said.
Izzah, who worked at PCF Sparkletots, a chain of government preschools, planned to travel to Syria with her young child and "was intent on joining" the Islamic State group, the ministry said. "She also said that she was prepared to undergo military training and engage in armed combat to defend ISIS, if called upon by the terrorist group to do so."
She was allegedly looking for a Salafi or Islamic State group supporter "to marry and settle down with." Salafism is a form of Islam that interprets the Quran literally.
Her parents, both freelance Quranic teachers, and sister were aware of Izzah's plans and tried to stop her, the ministry said. But when Izzah was put under investigation, a family member tried to destroy evidence to "try to minimize her acts."
A report released by the ministry this month said that Singapore's terrorism threat level "remains the highest in recent years."
It cited two foiled plans. Last August, the group Katibah Gonggong Rebus, based on the nearby Indonesian island of Batam, attempted to launch a rocket attack on downtown Singapore, the report said. Authorities also "swiftly but discreetly" stemmed an attack planned by foreign Islamic State group militants last year, it said, without providing further details.