Skip to main content

Singapore Policy Journal

Topic / International Relations and Security

A Radical Proposal: A Reporting Framework For Counter Terrorism

On June 12th, 2017, Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari became the first female Singaporean to be detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for radicalism.[1]  Worryingly, Izzah is just one of many radicalised Singaporeans detained under the ISA in the past two years. Among the 14 individuals detained between 2015 and June 2017, two claimed to be willing to answer ISIS’s call to war and destruction by carrying out attacks in Singapore. The dangers of such “lone-wolf attacks” cannot be understated.  They are hard to prevent and can happen quickly without warning or the need for sophisticated weaponry.[2]

In response to the threat of radicalism, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam emphasized the need for the community to play its part in detecting radicalised individuals and reporting them to the authorities.[3] In Izzah’s case, her family members knowingly withheld information of her radicalisation.[4]  Such inaction could have potentially deadly consequences. We suggest establishing a reporting framework by imposing a legal duty on people to report information concerning radicalised individuals to the authorities.

A Reporting Framework – A Necessity

Singaporean law does not currently require people to report radicalised individuals to the authorities.[5] This gap explains why the Ministry of Home Affairs eventually did not charge Izzah’s family members for failing to report her.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA)[6] enacted in the United Kingdom (UK) provides a useful reference point for what a reporting framework might include. Known as the “Prevent Duty”, it requires authorities to institutionalise mechanisms for gauging a person’s risk of radicalisation. While “Prevent Duty” in the UK applies to specific authorities that target vulnerable groups, such as youth, we suggest that a legal reporting framework should have a wider application. It should apply not only to specified authorities, but also to anyone else that may know that an individual has been radicalised. Izzah’s case demonstrates that family members or friends are most likely to have information regarding radicalised persons. The Singapore Government has also recognised the need for more key stakeholders such as schools, friends, counsellors and even community leaders to participate in anti-radicalisation efforts.

Policy Considerations – Legal Duty to Report?

We support a legal duty to report information on a radicalised person. This legal duty may be drawn from the general duty one owes to society. We draw inspiration from civil law jurisdictions which criminalise a failure to render assistance during an emergency.[7] In penalising a failure to rescue, civil law jurisdictions enforce a civic duty, thereby making such conduct a “public wrong”.[8] Arguably, failing to report radicalised individuals is a public wrong because of the risk to which society is exposed to resulting from the failure to report. Given the strong link between radicalisation and terrorism, a radicalised individual is much more likely to commit an act of terror. Failure to report hinders law enforcement’s efforts to foil terrorist plots, putting society at risk from terror attacks.

The magnitude of this public wrong is fortified when one considers the potential impact of a terror attack.  The terror threat is very real and has only continued to grow in recent years.[9] Undoubtedly, a terrorist attack would have a deleterious effect on society. Lives will be lost. The economy will take a hit and inter-community distrust might build. There is thus a duty owed to the society at large for citizens and residents to disclose information regarding radicalised individuals.

Furthermore, we suggest that any offence for failure to disclose should require the mental element (mens rea) to be proven (i.e it must be shown that the Defendant intended to conceal such information).[10] This will have a signalling effect on society.[11] People will be encouraged to be more forthcoming with such information as failure to do so will be met with criminal sanctions. It also signals to members of society to be more vigilant and to do their bit to actively counter the threat of terrorism.

Policy Considerations – Social Concerns

The law must also account for social considerations. Enactment of such laws could potentially be seen to be targeting Muslims, engendering Islamophobia. For instance, when the UK government introduced the “Prevent Duty”, it allocated funding for the scheme based on the number of Muslims in a local authority. Roundly criticised for its negative presumptions regarding British Muslims, it was seen as giving the UK public “permission to hate Muslims”.[12] Ensuring that any legislation passed adopts a neutral wording applying to radicalised individuals of all faiths may help prevent Islamophobia from arising. Another potential solution is to allow members of the public to report radicalised individuals to religious authorities such as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) or the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG).[13] Doing so recognises that the actions and existence of hard-line extremist groups are not representative of Islam. This is a clear signal to the wider society of the distinction between Islam and Radical Islamism.

Moreover, the proximity of loved ones often means that they will be first to notice changes pointing towards signs of extremism and radicalisation. Family and friends will have to make the difficult decision of reporting their loved ones. They may avoid reporting radicalisation out of love, denial, and misplaced sympathy. In a handful of self-radicalisation cases dealt with by the MHA, friends and family members of those radicalised withheld information from the authorities.[14] Imposing a legal duty to report radicalised individuals to the authorities may allow family members to justify breaking norms about the primacy of family over others. In addition, protecting the identity of informants should also be considered. Ultimately, families and friends of the radicalised are the first line of defence in avoiding a terrorist attack. Any law passed must also account for the social relations that may deter people from disclosing such information. For example, social relations could be considered as a mitigating factor in punishing the failure to report.


The enactment of laws requiring one to disclose information on radicalised individuals to the authorities is timely given the increased threat posed by self-radicalised individuals. Whilst a legal duty to report can be sustained on policy grounds, such a law must be applied with a view to our local context given that religion is a sensitive issue. The establishment of a legal reporting framework would go a long way in securing our society against terror threats. In this regard, the law too has a role to play.


[1] Ministry of Home Affairs website <‌-‌‍Threat-Assessment-Report-2017.aspx> (accessed 30 October 2017).

[2] Lydia Lam, “Singapore under highest terror threat in recent years: 8 key points from MHA’s terror report” The Straits Times (1 June 2017) <> (accessed 30 October 2017).

[3] Monica Kotwani, “Help suspected radicals by reporting them: Shanmugam” Channel NewsAsia (13 June 2017) <> (accessed 30 October 2017).

[4] Straits Times, “Father of first woman held under ISA for radicalism regrets not reporting her” The Straits Times (13 June 2017) <> (accessed 30 October 2017).

[5] However, Singapore does criminalise a failure to report information pertaining to terrorist financing activities or terrorist bombing. See Section 4(1) of the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombing) Act (Cap 324A, 2008 Rev Ed) and Sections 8 and 10 of the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (Cap 325, 2003 Rev Ed).

[6] Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (Cap 6, 2015) (UK) (“Counter-Terrorism and Security Act”).

[7] Jan M. Smits, “The Good Samaritan in European Private Law; On the Perils of Principles without a Programme and a Programme for the Future”, Inaugural lecture, Maastricht University, 19 May 2000 at p 30.

[8] Ibid.

[9] This is evident from the increase in the number of self-radicalised terror attacks that have become increasingly commonplace globally.

[10] Every offence does require a mental element except for strict liability offences.

[11] Chan, Winnie M. F. and Simester, A. P. “Four functions of mens rea” (2011) Vol.70 (No.2) The Cambridge Law Journal at pp 381-396.

[12] Fahid Qurashi, “Prevent gives people permission to hate Muslims – it has no place in schools” The Guardian. (4 April 2016). <> (accessed 30 October 2017).

[13] See Islamic Religious Council of Singapore Website <‌%202017%20-%20Media%20Statement%20-%20Muis%20Statement%20on%20Recent%20Detention%20Orders%20Announced%20by%20MHA.pdf> (accessed 30 October 2017). Currently, people with information regarding self-radicalised individuals can report them to either MUIS or RRG.

[14] Danson Cheong, “Vital to report radicalisation” The Straits Times (6 June 2017) <> (accessed 30 October 2017).

Image Credit: Image by