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Singapore arrests Facebook-based Tahrir preacher

  • Published at 10:46 pm July 30th, 2016
  • Last updated at 07:45 pm August 1st, 2016

Police in Singapore have detained a Hizb ut-Tahrir member named Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff for spreading radical Islamist ideology online and radicalising at least two other citizens. The 44-year-old man was arrested in Singapore this month and ordered two years' detention, according to a statement from Singaporean Home Ministry on Friday. Shariff started the International Halal Management company in Melbourne’s north. Online, he claimed to be a PhD student and tutor of international relations at La Trobe University. He also worked as a marketing manager at a Muslim community co-operative, reports Australia-based Herald Sun. Zulfikar made numerous Facebook posts that promoted and glorified terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daesh and its violent actions. His postings contributed to the radicalisation of at least two other Singaporeans. Zulfikar came under the spotlight in 2002 as head of fringe group Fateha and for challenging mainstream Muslim leaders and agitating for primary schoolgirls to be allowed to wear the headscarf in schools there. Zulfikar hosted politicians from Malaysia's Parti Islam SeMalaysia and went to Malaysia to speak on the issue and draw international attention to it. His approach drew criticism from Muslim leaders. He became a research fellow with Monash University, and led an organisation called the Association for Democracy in Singapore that purported to push for free speech. It counted opposition figures such as JB Jeyaretnam, Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan and former Workers' Party election candidate Tang Liang Hong among its advisers. He resettled his family in Australia in 2002, and continued to pursue extremism by joining Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international militant group banned in Bangladesh. He also established and maintained contact with radical preachers such as Australia's Musa Cerantonio, who has inspired foreigners to fight in Syria, and radical British cleric Anjem Choudary. In 2013, Zulfikar set up the Al-Makhazin website and and linked Facebook groups to champion what he saw as issues affecting Muslims. He used Facebook to agitate on Muslim issues in Singapore as a means to spread his radical ideology, and to get his online followers to reject the secular democratic nation-state system and replace it with a caliphate, even as he remained in Australia. He was issued with a detention order for a period of two years. Shariff would occasionally attend events organised by the Singapore community in Melbourne. A former business partner said he would regularly pray but did not express extremist views. It is not clear if Shariff had re-established himself in Singapore or was visiting the country when he was arrested. A La Trobe University spokesman told Herald Sun it was co-operating with relevant authorities. In recent times, Singapore arrested at least 35 Bangladeshi nationals, all expat workers, in connection with plotting terrorist activities. Most of them were sent back home but four were sentenced to different jail terms. A Dhaka Tribune investigation in Singapore last week found that radical Islamist propaganda books were being distributed among Bangladeshi expat workers there that pushed young men towards jihad.