On January 20, Singapore unveiled that it had uncovered a jihadist terror cell comprising Bangladeshi workers and had moved to arrest and deport the suspected militants. The incident marked the first time a foreign terror cell had been uncovered in the city-state.
According to Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, 27 male Bangladeshi nationals, all working the construction industry, were arrested under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) between Nov 16 and Dec 1, 2015. 26 of them have been repatriated to Bangladesh, with one remaining national serving a 12-week jail sentence in Singapore after attempting to leave the republic clandestinely. 14 of the 26 have been given jail sentences by a Dhaka Court on Dec 27 in a case filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
All but one of the 27 arrested were reported to be members of a closed religious study group that supported armed jihad ideology of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The remaining Bangladeshi national was not a member of the group but was found in possession of jihadist-related material. The 26 reportedly subscribed to the teaching of radical ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al-Qaeda linked extremist teacher who was killed in Yemen in 2011.
The closed religious group also targeted the recruitment of other Bangladeshi nationals to grow their membership and taken measures to avoid detection by authorities despite weekly gatherings discussing extremist material. The group was found in possession of a “significant amount” of radical and jihadist related material like books and videos, including a document that had graphics on how to conduct silent stabbings and footage of children undergoing training in what appeared to be terrorist military camps.
Several of the group members were contemplating traveling to the Middle East to participate in armed jihad and were also encouraged to return to their homeland Bangladesh to wage armed jihad against their own government.
According to the Singapore ministry’s press release, these Bangladeshi nationals bore grievances against the Dhaka government for its crackdown on Islamic militants in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi nationals arrested in Singapore were encouraged by their leaders to return to Bangladesh and wage armed jihad against the Bangladeshi government and had also sent monetary donations to entities believed to be linked to extremist groups in Bangladesh.
Rui Hao Puah is an editorial assistant at The Diplomat.