Security firms may get help to spot those likely to be radicalised

SINGAPORE – Following the arrests of two auxiliary police officers for terrorism-related offences, the trade association for the security sector is crafting a set of “guidelines and tell-tale signs” to help private agencies identify potentially radicalised individuals.

In a press release yesterday, the Security Association of Singapore (SAS) said it was deeply concerned about the cases, and it was in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) to come up with the guide.

It will also be working with its 148 members to develop internal whistle-blowing policies to ensure that processes are in place to effectively deal with potential instances of radicalisation.

In response to queries, a Singapore Police Force (SPF) spokesman said it was “heartened” by the initiatives proposed by the SAS. “MHA and SPF will continue to work closely with our security industry partners to enhance their security capabilities, and ensure that appropriate processes are put in place at workplaces for officers to look out for and report individuals in danger of self-radicalisation,” the spokesman said.

He added that despite the authorities’ best efforts, “it is not always easy or possible … to detect signs of radicalisation in every case”. “Relatives, colleagues, friends and the community are best placed to notice these signs. Early reporting can help the individual receive proper guidance and counselling, and protect Singapore and Singaporeans from the threat of terrorism,” he added.

Speaking to TODAY, SAS president Raj Joshua Thomas said the guidelines have not been finalised, but they will be adapted from those used by the Government’s SGSecure movement. According to the SGSecure website, signs of radicalisation in an individual include expressing belief that violence is justified, as well as sympathising with terrorists and their causes. Other signs are the person displaying insignia or symbols in support of terrorist groups, or trying to influence others to support terrorism and/or participate in terrorism-related activities.

Mr Thomas noted that the latest arrests “may affect the confidence that the public has in private security agencies and personnel”. Last month, the SAS had set up a committee to look into “how private security agencies and personnel can play their part” in counter-terrorism efforts. This committee will work with the relevant authorities on the guidelines and whistle-blowing policies.

While terrorism experts and security agencies welcomed the initiative, they cautioned against drawing up an overly specific set of guidelines which may lead to racial profiling or Islamophobia.

Dr Graham Ong-Webb, an S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) research fellow, said the SGSecure guide would be a useful starting point. But, he pointed out: “Suspicious behaviour may manifest itself differently among personnel who are security officers, for example, or even kindergarten teachers … compared to suspicious behaviour in general.”

On Tuesday, in the first case of a self-radicalised uniformed officer here, the authorities announced that two auxiliary police officers, Muhammad Khairul Mohamed, and his colleague, Mohamad Rizal Wahid, had been dealt with under the Internal Security Act. Khairul, 24, was detained under the Act for wanting to take part in the sectarian conflict in Syria by taking up arms for the Free Syrian Army. Rizal, 36, was issued a restriction order for supporting his intention to undertake armed violence.

Dr Ong-Webb said the SAS guidelines have to be customised for the industry. For instance, if a security personnel was drawing his weapon while he is off-duty, that could be a tell-tale sign for his peers to raise the matter to their supervisors. Security consultant Toby Koh of Ademco Security Group noted that having a set of guidelines would prompt private security firms to pay attention to the issue. Nevertheless, he noted that it has been difficult for countries around the world to identify radicalised individuals, despite all their resources and expertise.

On concerns about racial profiling and Islamophobia, Mr Thomas said the guidelines will have to be “sufficiently generic”, such that they do not prejudice people from any race or religion.

On Tuesday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam reiterated that not only is it impossible, it is also “very wrong” to suggest that employers vet Muslim workers differently to pick up radicalised individuals. He noted that there were “no obvious signs” shown by Khairul and Rizal, and these “would have been difficult” to pick up. The “serious responsibility” of picking up signs of radicalism falls on family and friends, he added.

After news of the latest arrests broke, a 29-year-old auxiliary police officer, who declined to be named, told TODAY that the cases may have “already affected the trust that the public have in security officers in general”. He was concerned that the proposed guidelines could “further create a suspicious environment which might not be healthy”. Instead, the message that the cases were isolated examples and not representative of Malay-Muslim officers has to be constantly reinforced, he added.

Parliamentary Secretary (Home Affairs) Amrin Amin had earlier also expressed worry that the conduct of Khairul and Rizal may “undermine scores of Muslim officers who love this country, and have served and continue to serve” it. The MHA has also urged the public to “remember that the overwhelming majority of our Muslim police officers perform their duties diligently”. Echoing the same sentiment, Mr Thomas said: “These two radicalised individuals are not representative of the overwhelming majority of private security personnel, who are responsible workers going about their daily jobs.”

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