SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore's government said Wednesday that it has been holding two of its citizens since August for attempting to make their way to Syria to join the Islamic State group.
Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, 29, and Muhammad Harith Jailani, 18, were detained without trial under the country's Internal Security Act in separate cases, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.
The announcement of the arrests comes amid concern that more youths in the region are being radicalized by the Islamic State group and volunteering as foreign fighters, with countries in the area tightening security checks.
Both individuals were "self-radicalized," the ministry said, using a term that indicates they were influenced by terrorism without being affiliated with a radical group. Instead, Shamin and Harith had exposed themselves to the Islamic State through the group's online propaganda.
"The detentions of Shamin and Harith underline the persistent ISIS threat and the threat posed by self-radicalized Singaporeans," the ministry's statement said. "A few of the Singaporeans who have been detained had even been prepared to carry out terrorist attacks in Singapore."
The ministry said that Shamin had been sentenced in May to three months in jail for inciting religious violence through pro-Islamic State group postings on social media. But it said that he continued to express support for the group throughout his imprisonment, and was planning to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State after his release.
Harith had collected information on how to travel to Syria, even attempting to recruit others to join the group, the ministry said.
In May, Singapore detained two teenagers for similar reasons. One has since been released, but is not allowed to leave the country without permission.
"The idea that ISIS can turn Southeast Asia into a province of a worldwide Islamic caliphate is a grandiose, pie-in-the-sky dream," Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in May.
"But it is not so far-fetched that ISIS could establish a base somewhere in the region, a geographical area under its physical control like in Syria and Iraq, somewhere far from the centers of power of state governments, where the governments' writ does not run. That would pose a serious threat to the whole of Southeast Asia," he said.