Singapore Expels 15 Bangladeshis Who ‘Incited Violence’ After French Terror Attacks

Jesmin Papri
Dhaka
2020-11-24
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bd-sg-construction 620 Workers from Bangladesh and India attend a briefing before starting work at a construction site in Singapore March 24, 2016.
[Reuters]

Singapore deported 15 Bangladesh nationals because of alleged social media posts that “incited violence or stoked communal unrest” in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in France, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced Tuesday.

Sixteen foreigners in all, including a Malaysian national, were sent back to their home countries after Singaporean authorities investigated them, the Ministry of Home Affairs said without specifying when the deportations occurred.

The investigations began after the city-state intensified security after deadly attacks in France that followed the re-publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Sep. 1, 2020.

“The 16 repatriated foreigners comprise a Malaysian, who was found to be radicalized and harbored the intention to travel to Syria or Palestine to partake in armed violence, and 15 Bangladeshis, most of whom were working in the construction industry who, in response to the recent terror attacks in France, had made social media postings which incited violence or stoked communal unrest,” the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

In Dhaka on Tuesday, senior officials told BenarNews they were not aware of Singapore’s expulsion of the Bangladeshis. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s counterterrorism chief did not immediately respond to a query from BenarNews.

Saiful Islam, deputy commissioner of the counterterrorism unit at Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told BenarNews that the department would make inquiries about the expelled Bangladeshis.

Mojaffar Ahmed, a joint secretary at the Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, said it had received no information about the deportation, including from Bangladesh’s High Commission in Singapore.

As of 2017, Singapore hosted 1.4 million foreign workers, according to data from its Ministry of Manpower. About 160,000 Bangladeshis work in Singapore, according to Dhaka’s diplomatic mission to the city-state.

Singapore’s home ministry said the Internal Security Department (ISD) and the police had stepped up investigations into “suspicious activity [and] suspected radicalized individuals” to prevent a threat to religious harmony after Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons. The magazine’s original publication of the caricatures of the founder of Islam led to a deadly terrorist attack on its Paris offices in 2015.

The ministry said that as of Tuesday, investigations into 37 individuals – 23 foreigners and 14 Singaporeans – had been initiated. The Singaporeans are still being investigated, the ministry statement said, without providing details about whether they were arrested.

Of the 23 foreigners, 16 had been sent home and one was arrested and under investigation, the ministry said. No information was provided about the six other foreigners being investigated.

On Nov. 2, Bangladesh national Ahmed Faysal was arrested by Singaporean authorities and is still being investigated for his suspected allegiance to Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a militant group fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate in Syria, the ministry said.

Faysal had been working as a construction worker in Singapore since early 2017, was radicalized in 2018 and joined HTS a year later, the home ministry said. He allegedly was active in sharing propaganda on social media that promoted armed violence, and had used accounts created under fictitious names, the ministry added.

“Apart from Syria, he was also willing to travel to Kashmir to fight against the perceived enemies of Islam,” the ministry statement said.

“To prepare himself for armed jihad, Faysal watched firearms-related videos online. He even bought foldable knives in Singapore, which he claimed he would use for attacks against Hindus in Bangladesh.”

Investigations so far have not shown that Faysal intended to carry out any acts of violence in Singapore, the ministry said.

‘Government needs to verify’

Bangladesh must investigate transparently to determine if the deported citizens were indeed radicalized or stoking unrest, Jalal Uddin Shikdar, a researcher at Dhaka’s Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, told BenarNews.

“Migrants workers are extremely vulnerable. Most of them are not very educated. Many even don’t know how to use social media platforms,” Shikdar said. “The government needs to verify to get actual facts.”

Many Bangladeshis who work abroad worry about sending money home and repaying loans, Shikdar said.

“Is it normal to brand them terrorists? We don’t see such a tendency in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries,” he said.

According to Shikdar, this was the second time in four years that Bangladeshis had been deported or repatriated from Singapore.

In January 2016, Singapore announced that it had deported 26 Bangladeshi construction workers for their alleged involvement in militancy.

The deported workers supported al-Qaeda and Islamic State and had discussed carrying out terror attacks upon returning home to Bangladesh, Singapore’s home ministry said back then.

Upon their return to Bangladesh, 14 of the 26 individuals were jailed on “terror charges,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sardar told BenarNews at the time.

The other 12 had been freed after interrogation, but their activities were being monitored, Hossain said.

Muzliza Mustafa contributed to this report from Kuala Lumpur.

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