JI 20 years later: Rehabilitated, reintegrated, Political news & Top Stories


SINGAPORE – When the first members of Jemaah Islamiah were arrested and questioned 20 years ago, investigators realized that detention alone would not be enough to combat the radical religious ideology in which members of the JI had been brainwashed.

Two leading Islamic scholars – Ustaz Mohd Hasbi Hassan and Ustaz Ali Mohamed – were invited to meet with the detainees.

Ustaz Ali still remembers the shock he felt upon discovering how flawed their understanding of Islam was.

They felt that the foreign teachers they had were better, “more honorable and braver than the religious teachers in Singapore,” because they were ready to fight against others for their faith, he recalls.

These first meetings led the two clergymen to propose the formation of what would be the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a voluntary group of Islamic teachers who would also continue to advise radicalized people and their families.

A former member of the JI who was helped on the road to rehabilitation by the RRG was Adam (alias), who had absorbed the ideology of the JI through home classes and had regular sessions with the RRG teachers while in detention.

“All the time that I was doing things for JI, it was not for God’s goodness but rather for his misfortune,” said Adam, reflecting on his years with JI.

The collaborative and consultative approach involving religious leaders, officials from the Department of Homeland Security (ISD) and community partners that was adopted following these early meetings would play a critical role in rehabilitation – and continued reintegration – former members of the MOC in the mainstream. company.

The process has borne fruit.

Of the 56 JI members who have received detention orders since 2002, only four remain in detention: JI leader Ibrahim Maidin, Mohammad Aslam Yar Ali Khan, JI operations manager in Singapore Mas Selamat Kastari and his son. Masyhadi.

No member of the JI released from detention has reoffended.

The RRG was formalized in 2003 and made public two years later.

His sessions with inmates uncovered a wealth of information about the JI’s misrepresentation of Islam, as well as how they recruited and indoctrinated members.

The religious leaders learned how the members had taken a bai’ah, or oath of allegiance, to senior JI leaders, and how they planned to wage a jihad, or armed struggle, in the name of Islam.

The JI had misinterpreted these concepts in an attempt to advance their own violent agenda, and religious leaders found themselves faced with the challenge of correcting misinterpretations.

Ustaz Hasbi recalled how the group and the “teachers” of his distorted ideology translated verses from the Quran according to their own understanding. “They are not educated in the religious field, and they speak according to their own beliefs,” he said.

He and his fellow teachers felt it was their duty to get these inmates on the right track and, most importantly, to ensure that such dangerous and mistaken interpretations of Islam did not spread in the community. They volunteered to work closely with these men and help them rehabilitate.

“We believe that, especially as an asatizah, it is our duty,” said Ustaz Ali, using the Arabic term for religious teachers.

It was the “greatest challenge” to correct the opinions of former inmates, involving repeated meetings to discuss, understand and clarify their erroneous interpretations.

Some even called the teachers “government ustaz” or “ustaz munafik (hypocrite)” because they believed that clerics worked for the authorities.

“They were very violent at first, cursing and cursing at religious teachers,” added Faisal, ISD’s senior operations officer (not her real name).

Ustaz Mohd Hasbi Hassan. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

The pushback and the labels did not come only from the detainees, and Ustaz Ali recalled that even members of the community had passed judgment on the asatizah who wanted to help rehabilitate members of the JI.

“They called us hypocrites and labeled us with all kinds of accusations. But that’s no obstacle,” he said. “Not only are we helping the government, but we would also like to help our religion because its terms and concepts are misused,” he said.

As for the four hardened members of the JI, they regularly meet RRG advisers, despite their persistent refusal from the clerics. One regularly threatens to harm ISD agents and the government, claiming Singapore will burn in hell. Another still believes in armed jihad, saying he would not hesitate to carry out a suicide bombing if the JI leaders asked him to.

Ustaz Ali said the work to involve these detainees must continue, as there is hope that one day they can come to their senses.

Religious counseling, along with the work of psychologists and social support through weekly family visits, is essential to ISD’s long-term approach to rehabilitating terrorist detainees.

Just as key to the process was the level of trust established with the detainees, which owed in large part to what former JI members describe as the fair, humane and respectful treatment they received from ISD agents.


Oustaz Ali Mohamed. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Several detainees told ST that they had been warned by JI leaders that the detention meant systematic mental and physical torture, including nail removal and restriction of all freedoms. This was not the case.

“We were brainwashed into thinking that after your arrest, when you are released, you will be mad and not be a normal person,” said Johan (not her real name), a former member of the advisory board. of JI held by the DSI from 2006 to 2012.

“There was no truth to it all.”

He said he could read in the library, exercise twice a day, see his wife and children every week, and had doctors check him daily. In Hari Raya, special tours were arranged for immediate family members to bond and spend time together over snacks.

For former JI members like Helmi (not her real name), his detention from 2005 to 2013 helped him achieve what mattered most: “My involvement in JI hurt my family. I regretted my actions and wanted to hand over a new leaf so that I could be a good father to my children and a devoted husband to my wife. “

Another former detainee, Salleh (not his real name), said family visits and letters gave him the strength to carry out his detention from 2002 to 2004. … ISD and Muslim groups helped to cover household expenses and the education of my children, ”he said.

The families of detainees are counseled by the RRG in the event of exposure to radical ideology; and financial and social support from a network of community groups – the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG).

The ACG was formed in early 2002, shortly after the first arrests, to assist the wives and children of JI detainees. It includes members of the non-profit AMP, the Mendaki self-help group, the Taman Bacaan community group and a few mosques.

As most of the inmates were the sole breadwinners, ACG’s help proved crucial for wives like Sarah (not her real name). “We had a large family and I had never had a job before,” she said. An ISD follow-up officer was assigned to her family after her husband’s arrest.

The ACG provided cash support, vouchers, scholarships and tuition for the children. The group also provided training which helped her land her first job as an office worker – which she still has today.

ISD said it is committed to helping children of detainees reduce their vulnerability to negative influences and prevent the emergence of a potential “second generation” of OMC members. “So far, most of the children of JI members have either paid employment or education, and remain resilient against radical influence.”

One example is Abdullah (not her real name), the son of a former JI member, who said he appreciated the help his family received from AMP and Mendaki, who gave him a loan to fund a diploma after national service.

Ms. Zaleha Ahmad, director of the AMP marriage center, recalled how she and her colleagues were initially rejected by some families.

Slowly, the counselors and follow-up agents gained their trust, sharing their personal cell phone numbers so they could be reached at any time.

Mendaki chief executive Zuraidah Abdullah said the long-term goal is to empower families and empower themselves – not burdened with the consequences of their father’s or husband’s mistakes.

“The community as a whole cannot see the family and (say), ‘Oh, this is such and such a family’ and so don’t go near them or anything,” he said. -she adds. “We should embrace them. They shouldn’t feel isolated.”

The effort helped the majority of former detainees successfully reintegrate into society, ISD said.

Officers keep in touch and offer advice and support to make sure they don’t fall back into old ways. Former detainees – and their families – are also free to seek help from ISD, the department said.

Some employers have also stepped up.

Mr John Tan, who has hired several former detainees, said: “We (should) always give them the opportunity to rebuild their lives, to get them back on track,” he said.

Over the years he has seen former inmates start from scratch and rise through the ranks to become supervisors; helped by his own will to send them to further training courses. He also paired a former inmate with a colleague. The duo eventually got married and, with the help of ISD, managed to secure an apartment for rent.

Senior Officer Rajah (not her real name) said the approach of long-term engagement through a multi-stakeholder ecosystem has helped prevent most inmates “from falling back on the radical path.”

The ongoing challenge for inmates, he added, is how society, community and family will come to perceive and accept them.

To signal to inmates that the community has not abandoned them, more than 10 mosques here typically volunteer to send them porridge during Ramadan each year. “Some of them, when they see the porridge, they actually cry,” Rajah said. “It’s very symbolic and meaningful, especially during the month of fasting. This kind of thing helps inmates to move forward.

Adam said he was mistakenly drawn to JI by the desire to be not only a better Muslim, but also a better family man.

In the end, it was his eight years in detention and his re-education that gave him real motivation and brought him closer to his role as a good Muslim, husband and father.

“Now it’s time for me to pay everything back,” he said.

“My time is gone. Whenever my family needs me, I will be there for them, with them.”

About Bradley J. Bridges

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