An Australian-based Singaporean who portrayed himself as a social activist has been arrested for promoting terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and armed jihad.
Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, 44, was arrested this month while visiting Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday.
He has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for two years.
He is accused of using online platforms to propagate and spread his radical messages - which include glorifying ISIS and their violent actions and exhorting Muslims to take up arms in places like the Middle East, Palestinian territories, Myanmar and the Philippines.
At least two other Singaporeans were radicalised as a result.
One of them, Singaporean businessman Mohamed Saiddhin Abdullah, 33, identified Zulfikar, who was his Facebook friend, as the person who had influenced him to support ISIS. (See report, right.)
The other person, Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidik, 29, was detained under the ISA last year for terrorism-related activities.
Zulfikar had also planned to hold training programmes to persuade young Singaporeans to join his extremist agenda of replacing Singapore's secular, democratic system with an Islamic state, by violence if necessary, said the MHA.
Zulfikar is no stranger to controversy.
He rose to prominence in 2002 after he campaigned for the authorities to allow four Muslim girls to wear Islamic headscarves, or tudung, to school.
In May that year, Zulfikar was charged with trespassing at Tanglin police station. He had refused to leave the station after there was an illegal May Day rally at the Istana.
Zulfikar, a married father of six, was the former head of Muslim website Fateha, which was eventually shut down.
In 2002, he fled to Australia amid a police probe into a criminal defamation case for three articles that were posted on the Fateha website.
Zulfikar also made the news in 2014 as an active member of the Wear White movement, which opposes homosexuality and the gay rights event Pink Dot.
The Straits Times, which published Zulfikar's commentary on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in May this year, reported that he is a final-year PhD candidate at La Trobe University in Melbourne who researches International Institutionalism with a focus on Asean.
The MHA said Zulfikar was influenced as early as 2001 by jihadi-related material and was supportive of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiah.
In Australia, he continued to pursue radical ideology by joining the hard-line Hizbut Tahrir organisation.
He was also influenced by the teachings of a cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, who spread his extremist views online and was killed by a US-led drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Like Awlaki, - a US-born Al-Qaeda leader - Zulfikar had an online presence and was active on Facebook and Twitter.
He posted on a variety of subjects from his research to politics, but several of his Facebook posts in 2014 showed his radical side.
His last Facebook post was on June 25, where he shared a video on atheism.
The MHA release stated: "At times he has tried to hide his real motivations by putting out moderate-sounding views.
"But in reality, he believes in the use of violence to overthrow the democratic system of government and the imposition of an Islamic caliphate."
While in Australia, Zulfikar set up an online group called Al-Makhazin in 2013 and a Facebook page called Al-Makhazin Singapore.
The MHA said: "Zulfikar has admitted that he had an ulterior motive for setting up Al-Makhazin Singapore, which he used as a platform to agitate on Muslim issues in Singapore and attack some Singaporean Muslims who did not share his views.
"His real agenda was in fact to provoke Muslims in Singapore into pushing for the replacement of the democratic system with an Islamic state in Singapore."
Another clue to Zulfikar's radicalisation is a widely circulated photo - first posted on his Facebook account in 2014 - of him and his children mimicking a pose commonly used by ISIS fighters while standing in front of a black flag that is commonly used by ISIS fighters.
The MHA said: "The Government takes a very serious view of efforts to undermine Singapore's constitutional democracy, and will take firm and decisive action against any person who engages in such activities."
Comments by Mnister of Home Affairs and law, K. Shanmugam
He could turn 'normal' person into terrorist: Minister
Those who influence and motivate others to commit violence are more dangerous than those who go out and kill, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam yesterday.
Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, 44, who was arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act for terrorism activity, was an influencer, said Mr Shanmugam.
"He really wanted to brainwash Muslims in Singapore to reject the democratic nation state and instead have an Islamic caliphate," said Mr Shanmugam.
Mentioning how Zulfikar managed to radicalise Mohamed Saiddhin Abdullah, who was issued a Restriction Order this month, Mr Shanmugam said that Zulfikar is a "dangerous and pernicious influence" who is able to turn a "perfectly normal" person into a terrorist.
Mr Shanmugam also cited the example of Belgian preacher Zerkani, who influenced many young people to carry out terrorist attacks in Paris.
"The preachers and influencers stay under the radar, under the cover of religious freedom and freedom of speech," Mr Shanmugam said.
He explained that there was a clear difference between advocating a cause through social activism and glorifying terrorism.
Zulfikar had posted on social media, supporting the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and promoting armed jihad.
"Radicalising people, recruiting people to go and fight overseas, glorifying ISIS and taking steps to say that there should be an Islamic caliphate in Singapore - I think that, for us, that crosses the line," said Mr Shanmugam.
Comments by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Zulfikar's exhortations to take up his call to fight with ISIS has now radicalised at least one other. This is reprehensible and irresponsible; he sat on an armchair in Australia and flagrantly sacrificed the lives of the gullible. I ask my fellow Muslims to confer with our scholars who have proper qualifications and have always called us to peace even when we needed to resolve conflicts. Indeed we should immediately be alert and turn away from those who incite anger and violence in every sentence they post."
Such extremist, violent beliefs have no place in our multiracial and multi-religious country. The Government will be alert to spot such individuals, but we need everyone's help to uphold and protect our harmonious way of life. Together, we can stay united and strong. -
Comments by Minister of MEWR, Mr Masagos Zulkifli
I am dismayed by the recent arrests of the self-radicalised Singaporeans... No country can also fully block the Internet and prevent what comes in. What is more important is the resilience and cohesion of the nation and our people. Hence, quick action by citizens to report any potential threats to the authorities is critical to combat the spread of extremism."
Comments by Minister for MCI and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim
The threat of radicalisation and extremism is real as recent incidents worldwide and the local arrests show. The path to radicalisation begins with sympathising and identifying with radical ideologies...
Traditional Islamic concepts such as the 'caliphate' are also misappropriated by such groups for their destructive and violent ends. For Muslims in Singapore, there is no incompatibility nor contradiction between practising Islam and living in Singapore."
- See more at: http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore-news/he-planned-set-islamic-state-here#sthash.agbMCzNj.dpuf