Singapore authorities have arrested a 16-year-old for allegedly plotting “terrorist attacks” at two local mosques after being inspired by the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, in what officials say is the first citizen of the country to be arrested for planning far-right extremist violence.
The teenager, who comes from a Protestant family and has not been named due to his age, was said to have been heavily influenced by Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last year and gunned down worshippers, killing 51 people in a shooting rampage that shocked the world.
The boy had planned to carry out multiple attacks on two mosques near the border with Malaysia on the Mar. 15 anniversary of the 2019 Christchurch attacks, according to Singapore government statements and media reports. In preparation, he ordered a tactical vest and shopped for a machete online.
“He watched live-streamed videos of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and also read manifestos of Christchurch attacker, Brenton Tarrant,” Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a public statement released on Wednesday following the arrest.
“He was self-radicalized and motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence.”
Investigators said that the 16-year-old also consumed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda videos and “came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers.”
Under Singapore’s controversial Internal Security Act, suspects can be detained without trial.
The teenager allegedly obtained a flak jacket and intended to purchase a machete on the popular online marketplace app Carousell after searching for firearms and other weapons online. A spokeswoman for Carousell later condemned the sale and said that the listings were immediately taken offline.
“Carousell strictly prohibits any form of weaponry to be sold on its platform and will continue to further its efforts with both automated and manual moderation, to keep our marketplace safe,” vice president of operations Tan Su Lin told state broadcaster Channel News Asia.
The episode shocked Singapore, a multiracial and religiously diverse nation governed by strict laws and anti-terror measures. Crime rates are low and owning a gun remains illegal, but the Southeast Asian city-state has seen its share of racial tensions and troubles in years past.
Christian religious leaders in the country condemned the plot.
“We totally reject any ideology—even if they should come fictitiously under the label 'Christian'—that promotes or incites violence against another, especially if they are of a different religious community,” the National Council of Churches of Singapore said in a statement addressing the teenager’s plan.
Singapore’s Minister for law and home affairs K Shanmugam called it a “dangerous, new development.”
“The youth said he saw only two outcomes—to be arrested before he carried out his plan, or to be killed by police during the attack. He was being very serious,” the minister wrote on his official Facebook page.
“Far-right extremism is growing in many parts of the world, and seeping into Singapore as well.”
Rohan Gunaratna, a security studies professor at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU), echoed the minister’s views and called for more vigilance.
“The real danger of a terrorist attack of this nature will immediately impact the racial and religious harmony of Singapore,” Gunaratna told VICE World News.
“The fact that a 16-year-old in Singapore was influenced to mount his own attack clearly demonstrates that the right wing influence is spreading among youth and children largely through the internet.”
Shashi Jayakumar, head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security in Singapore, said he was “entirely unsurprised” about the teenager’s age as young people in Singapore are becoming increasingly susceptible to radical ideologies online, mirroring a trend in the west.
“The Singapore authorities have not sugar coated this arrest,” he said.
“But based on research reports and my analysis, many young offenders deemed to no longer pose an active threat to society, may be released relatively quickly after rehabilitation and thorough assessment by the relevant government agencies.”