On Monday, the case with respect to Singapore’s first terrorism financing charge was in the headlines in Singapore with the suspect standing trial. The development spotlighted one key aspect of Singapore’s response to the terrorism challenge and how it is faring amid wider developments.
As I have noted before in these pages, even though Singapore has not itself been the direct victim of successful terrorist incidents involving the Islamic State and other related groups that have hit other neighboring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines in recent years, the country continues to remain wary of the wider threat due to previous plots that have been foiled as well as instances of Singaporeans being radicalized. Over the years, the government has engaged in a series of actions, including strengthening its domestic security focus on the challenge, strengthening counterterrorism collaboration with key countries, and reinforcing deradicalization efforts.
Not unlike some other relevant Asian states, one of the aspects of Singapore’s response to terrorism has been on the financing front, and a case in point of that is the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act, which had been passed in 2002 in the wake of the September 11 attacks the year prior. Last October, Ahmed Hussein Abdul Kadir Sheik Uduman, a former information technology engineer, became the first Singaporean to be sentenced for terrorism financing in a sign of the country’s continued attention to this dimension of the terrorism challenge.
This week, this aspect of Singapore’s terrorism challenge was in the headlines again with the development of what was the first charge related to terrorism financing. Imran Kassim, a Singaporean national who had been accused of providing money to a person in Turkey for the publication of ISIS propaganda in October 2014, had been detained under the Internal Security Act in August 2017 and then charged in April 2019, and he stood trial on Monday. This was the first charge of its kind under the Terrorism Suppression of Financing Act (Ahmed Hussein, mentioned earlier, was charged later than Imran in September 2019, even though he was the first Singaporean to be convicted as that occurred just a month thereafter).
As he stood trial, the details of Imran’s case sparked headlines in some key Singapore newspapers. Of particular note was the fact that Imran, who is currently representing himself, admitted that he did indeed conduct the transfer, but when asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty, he said he could not respond because he only recognized Islamic sharia law, rather than Singapore law. Imran also raised questions about aspects of Singapore’s approach to terrorism and wider foreign policy, including whether other groups and Israel were listed as terrorist entities and perceived exaggerations about the Islamic State.
The exact impact of this case on the terrorism challenge in Singapore remains to be seen. While Imran’s own admission and the evidence presented by the prosecution, including records of the transfer itself, suggests he will be proven guilty where he could be jailed for up to 10 years, fined a maximum of S$500,000, or both, the judge’s verdict was adjourned to Tuesday. And as noted earlier, this is only one case of terrorism financing, and that itself is just one part of Singapore’s wider approach to countering terrorism. Nonetheless, given what we have seen in recent years, this will continue to be an important aspect to watch in the months and years to come.