Ex-NSF detained under ISA for plotting knife attack on Jews at Waterloo St synagogue

Amirull Ali had planned to use a Smith and Wesson knife (left) for his attack on the Maghain Aboth synagogue (right) along Waterloo Street. (PHOTOS: MHA / Google Street View screengrab)
Amirull Ali had planned to use a Smith and Wesson knife (left) for his attack on the Maghain Aboth synagogue (right) along Waterloo Street. (PHOTOS: MHA / Google Street View screengrab)

SINGAPORE — A 20-year-old former full-time national serviceman has been detained under the Internal Security Act for plotting a knife attack against Jews at Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Singapore.

Amirull Ali had also planned to travel to Gaza in Palestine to join the military wing of Hamas – the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (AQB) – in its fight against Israel, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a news release on Wednesday (10 March).

According to local media reports, Amirull was arrested on 5 February while still serving national service in the Singapore Armed Forces. An ISA detention order was issued against him on 5 March.

Amirull's detention comes over a month after the Internal Security Department (ISD) announced that it had detained a 16-year-old Singaporean youth for planning a machete attack on Muslims at two mosques in Singapore. ISD said he was inspired by the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings carried out by Brenton Tarrant, which claimed the lives of 51 people.

Planned to kill 3 Jewish males

Knowing that it would be difficult to obtain a firearm in Singapore, Amirull intended to use a Smith & Wesson knife that he had purchased in 2016 for his scouting activities. He also downloaded an image of the human vascular system that he used to identify the mid-section as the best place to stab a person to ensure a "quick death from massive bleeding", said MHA.

He then made a replica knife to practise stabbing motions and grip technique, and to avoid damaging the actual knife he planned to use.

Amirull also admitted to having made two reconnaissance trips to the synagogue on Waterloo Street between August and early October 2019. During these trips he identified a suitable spot along one of the exterior walls from which he could ambush his victims. To avoid suspicion, he avoided taking pictures of the synagogue and instead downloaded an online picture of the location from the internet.

The youth's plan was to carry out his attack on a Saturday as people were leaving the synagogue after prayers. "His goal was to kill three Jewish males; he had targeted the males on the assumption that they would have served national service in Israel and hence carried out alleged atrocities against the Palestinians," said MHA.

The ministry added that Amirull planned to conceal his face with a white keffiyeh (scarf) during attack, after which he would flee the scene and post a short manifesto online upon reaching home. This manifesto was aimed at inciting all oppressed people to mount attacks against tyrannical regimes using any means necessary, including assassination and vigilante justice.

In October 2019, Amirull had second thoughts about carrying out an attack due to concerns over not achieving martyrdom should he be arrested and sentenced to death. "In his mind, martyrdom could only be achieved by fighting in an actual battlefield in Gaza," said MHA.

However, after watching an online video on the killing of an unarmed and autistic Palestinian man by Israeli forces, Amirull became enraged and considered carrying out his attack on Christmas Day in 2020 instead. This time, he planned to don a black ski mask just like those worn by AQB fighters in Gaza.

These plans were also eventually shelved over concerns about not attaining martyrdom.

Amirull is said to have downloaded a chart (left) showing the human vascular system to help him plan where to stab his victims, and also made a replica AK-47 rifle (right) to practise with in prepartion for joining the AQB forces in Palestine. (PHOTOS: MHA)
Amirull is said to have downloaded a chart (left) showing the human vascular system to help him plan where to stab his victims, and also made a replica AK-47 rifle (right) to practise with in preparation for joining the AQB forces in Palestine. (PHOTOS: MHA)

Journey into self-radicalistion

MHA said Amirull's interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict began in 2014 after he watched a video showing Palestinian civilians being bombed by Israeli fighter jets. His online research subsequently convinced him that Israel was oppressing the Palestinians and also deepened his hatred for Israel.

He began supporting AQB in 2015 after reading a book that glorified the group's exploits in fighting for Palestinian rights. In 2018, Amirull discussed with a foreign contact his intention of travelling to Palestine to join AQB and was encouraged to do so. "He was told that he would become a martyr if he were to die fighting against the enemies of Islam on the battlefield," said MHA.

Amirull made preparations for the trip between mid-2018 and 2020. This included researching travel routes to Gaza and practising rifle handling with a homemade replica of an AK-47 assault rifle. He focused on this rifle model as he was convinced he would receive one while serving with the AQB. Amirull's plan was to join the group after finishing his full-time national service and when he had saved up enough money.

The ISD investigations found that Amirull had acted alone and showed no sign of trying to influence others with his attack plot or radical beliefs. His immediate family and others in his social circles were unaware of his plans, said MHA. The ministry also noted that it was the Ministry of Defence that had alerted ISD to Amirull's possible radicalisation.

"If Amirull had remained undetected, he might have eventually carried out his attack plans in Singapore or travelled abroad to undertake armed violence," said MHA. It added that anyone who suspects that a person has been radicalised can contact the ISD Counter-Terrorism Centre hotline at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Updates on other cases

In updates to other similar cases, MHA said Sheik Heikel Khalid Bafana, 49, had been released from detention and placed under a Restriction Order (RO) earlier this month. He was detained under the ISA in March 2019 for his active involvement in Yemen's civil war.

MHA added that the RO placed on 63-year-old Rasidah Mazlan in March 2019 had been allowed to expire this month. She was issued with an RO in March 2019 after investigations found her to be in contact with multiple foreign entities thought to be involved in terrorism-related activities.

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