Masagos urges Singaporeans to be eyes, ears in terrorism fight

With terrorist content proliferating rapidly through social media, Singaporeans can help detect and prevent radicalisation of individuals by reporting terrorist material found online to the authorities. Parents can also keep a close watch for signs of radicalisation among their family members.

The call for the community to be the eyes and ears for counterterrorism efforts was made by security experts and Senior Minister of State (Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs) Masagos Zulkifli at a security conference yesterday, amid concerns of self-radicalised individuals finding inspiration from the Islamic State extremist group’s materials that have gone viral on the Internet.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Global Security Asia 2015 conference, Mr Masagos said members of the community, such as parents, can help watch for signs of radicalisation among their family and friends.

“At the end of the day, we have to take responsibility to watch (over) our children, our community, so they do not take (up) arms … Indeed, we should prevent them and look out for all these tell-tale signs as early as possible,” he added.

Describing social media as the Islamic State’s “most powerful weapon” for spreading ideas and recruiting followers, conference chairman Dr Rohan Gunaratna said it is paramount for governments and their community partners to counter the threat in cyberspace in addition to existing efforts.

“Governments and their community partners should, on a minute-by-minute basis, counter the online and offline threats. Online, the Islamic State has invested significant resources to politicise, radicalise and militarise vulnerable segments of our community,” said the professor of security studies from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Dr Gunaratna said websites should be set up to counter the group’s extremist ideology and there should be “active engagements” to rebut its ideology online.

Singapore-based Certified Counter Terrorism Practitioner programme director Yaniv Peretz said service providers such as Google cannot keep up with the speed and volume at which Islamic State materials and related content are being shared online.

“The problem is the videos are being posted too fast. By the time they are taken off, there are already thousands of copies of these videos all around the Internet,” he said.

To address this problem, Mr Peretz cited the example of how citizens in Israel have kept a lookout for terrorist threats, such as bombs, in public areas. On one occasion, a bag containing a bomb was spotted by a civilian who alerted the police, he said.

Similarly, by raising public awareness of the terrorist threat on the Internet, the public can help notify the authorities of terrorist content proliferating on social media, he added.

The three-day conference, which will end tomorrow, will see experts discussing issues related to the threats posed to Asia by the Islamic State. Held at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, the event also features an exhibition showcasing more than 170 international security contractors with cutting-edge equipment.