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Sunday, August 14, 2016

He planned to set up Islamic State here (2016)


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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."

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