Bangkok: Singapore has questioned how a Singaporean-born Australian resident came to be collecting welfare benefits while allegedly engaging in terrorism-related activities in Melbourne.
Comments by the city state’s Home and Law Affairs Minister, K. Shanmugam, also raise questions about why Australian authorities never moved against Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff while he was making posts on social media supporting Islamic State and other terrorism groups.
Forty-four-year-old Zulfikar, who lived in Australia for 14 years, was detained under Singapore’s Internal Security Act when he returned to Singapore this month.
Mr Shanmugam said Zulfikar was a “dangerous, pernicious influence” who wanted to brainwash Muslims in Singapore to reject the democratic state and instead to have an Islamic caliphate.
He said Singaporean authorities could not act earlier against Zulfikar because he was in Australia.
“He apparently was on the dole there, so he was getting money from the Australian taxpayer while criticising the democratic, secular system which was feeding him,” Mr Shanmugam told reporters.
The Australian Federal Police have not commented on the case.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said Australian officials are seeking to provide assistance to Zulfikar. But the spokesperson said Singapore does not recognise dual nationality and he is being treated as a Singaporean citizen.
“For privacy reasons, no further comment will be provided on this case,” the spokesperson said.
Singapore’s leaders have used Zulfikar’s arrest to deliver a strong warning to Malay Muslims that they will not tolerate anyone agitating to divide Singaporeans or sow conflict through religious extremism.
Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff is accused of actively spreading radical ideology online and helping radicalise at least two other citizens. Photo: Facebook
Mr Shanmugam said individuals who preach extremism and motivate others to commit violence were more dangerous than those who inflict physical harm and kill.
Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore ‘s Communication and Information Minister, said the arrest of Zulfikar and two other Singaporeans he allegedly radicalised, are a stark reminder to Singaporeans that the risks to Singapore are real and reflect the open and porous nature of the internet.
“No country can also fully block the internet and prevent want comes in,” he said. “What is more important is the resilience and cohesion of the nation and our people.”
Singapore authorities allege that Zulfikar, who studied at La Trobe University after first settling in Australia in 2002, planned to hold training programs to persuade young Singaporeans to join his extremist agenda.
Singapore ‘s Ministry of Home Affairs said Zulfikar started becoming radicalised as early as 2001 after reading hardline material, supporting groups like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah and advocating for Muslims to take up arms in Afghanistan after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.
“One day soon, we will run out of excuses,” he said in one Facebook post last year. “And join the jihad … may Allah grant us the courage and guidance to do what needs to be done.”
Zulfikar has been issued with a two-year detention order.
Two Singaporeans he allegedly helped radicalise have been issued with restriction orders than ban them from moving house, changing jobs or travelling abroad without permission from the Internal Security Department.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made repeated comments over the last year warning that south-east Asia is at the frontline of terrorism and the recruitment of terrorists. He has urged that regional nations step up their sharing of intelligence and cut funding channels to Islamic State and other terror organisations.
In May, Singaporean authorities said they had discovered a terror cell that could have directed an attack on the city state. Eight Bangladeshi men were detained under the Internal Security Act.