Amid concerns over how friends of self-radicalised youth M Arifil Azim Putra Norja’i did not report him to the authorities despite knowing what he was up to, youth counsellors and experts yesterday stressed the need for the community to report such cases promptly to the authorities, given the potential dire consequences.
Ms Nur Irfani Saripi, a Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) counsellor, said that had someone not alerted the authorities, Arifil might have succeeded in pulling off his plans.
“It is not easy to report someone you care about, but it is necessary especially if that person has become influenced by deviant and violent ideologies, like those of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria),” she said.
But she noted that “when someone is detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), he or she is deemed a serious threat to national security”.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that Arifil, a 19-year-old post-secondary student has been detained since April under the ISA.
He had hoped to travel to Syria to join ISIS, failing which he planned to carry out attacks in public places here, even going to the extent of trying to recruit others to help him.
MHA said that while these persons were not recruited, they did not alert the authorities about Arifil.
The authorities were notified by another person who knew the teenager and had noticed changes in him.
Separately, another teenager, a 17-year-old who was unnamed, was also arrested under the Act for further investigations into his radicalisation, MHA said.
The Ministry refers cases to the RRG for counselling.
While Ms Nur Irfani noted that Arifil was detained because he fit the bill of someone who poses a serious threat to national security, the associate research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research said those who have been detained for radicalism “must be provided proper counselling to try to guide them back”.
Agreeing, counsellors and experts felt that the book should not be thrown too quickly at these misguided youths.
To this, the MHA explained that when a report is made, investigations will be carried out to determine whether the person reported has been radicalised, and if so, the extent of radicalisation, and the risk and potential threat the person poses.
“In appropriate cases, the person may be referred for counselling and other mitigation measures without the need for arrest,” said an MHA spokesperson.“Counselling or rehabilitation programmes are tailored to the person’s specific circumstances, including age.”
Psychiatrist Adrian Wang, who runs his own clinic, noted that “youths are easily attracted to radical ideas, especially if the idea can compensate for a lack in some area of their lives”.
Self-radicalised youths have their lives ahead of them and should be helped as much as possible to turn over a new leaf, he added. “We have to try and understand the factors that caused this young person to become so interested in ISIS.”
The MHA spokesperson urged the members of the public who observe extremist tendencies in any person “to report this early, so that efforts can be made to save him or her from becoming a danger to himself or herself, and to others”.
“This is particularly so for youths who are impressionable and who could need guidance to steer them away from radicalisation,” the spokesperson added.
Among parents and youths whom TODAY interviewed, there seems to be a general reluctance to report self-radicalised youth to the authorities as soon as they are uncovered.
Ms Noorulain Sheik Mohideen, 48, who has two children aged nine and 17, felt that someone like Arifil should not be treated too harshly, and should be given psychological treatment.
Polytechnic student Siti Nursyazwani Ramle, 18, said: “What I’d do firstly is to ask him why he harbours these kinds of thoughts, and then start to talk to him about how these ideas are not right. If it becomes severe, like if he has intentions of bombing, I think it’s important that I report him to the authorities.”
Ms Samantha Chng, 41, whose children are aged 15 and 17, said parents need to be aware of what their children do or read online.
“I am monitoring (my children’s) activities on social media. I don’t throw a (smart device) at them and let them use it without guidance,” she said.