SINGAPORE/DHAKA (Reuters) - Eight Bangladeshi men held in Singapore for allegedly plotting attacks in their homeland had formed an Islamist cell that met in parks and open fields and shared radical propaganda and videos, authorities in the city-state said on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it had issued two-year detention orders for the men, who it says called themselves the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB), under Singapore’s colonial-era Internal Security Act, which allows suspects to be held for lengthy periods without trial.
“The ISB is the first group comprising all foreigners to be detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities in Singapore,” the ministry said in a statement.
Wealthy, multi-ethnic Singapore, which has not faced any successful militant attacks in decades, had announced the arrests on Tuesday, saying its investigations showed the ISB had identified several possible targets in Bangladesh.
Giving further details on Wednesday, authorities said the group had a hierarchical structure with a leader, deputy leader and members assigned specific roles such as finance.
Its members had each worked in Singapore for between three and 10 years and generally lived in different accommodation, the MHA said, adding they were not known to have been radicalised when they arrived in the city-state.
There were no indications that they had planned to carry out attacks in Singapore, it said.
Five other Bangladeshis who came to the authorities attention during the same investigation had been sent back to the South Asian nation, the MHA said. Police in Dhaka said they had been arrested since their return.
They were not involved with the ISB group, the MHA said, but had been found to be in possession of jihadi-related material or to support the use of armed violence for a religious cause.
Dhaka city police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sardar said the five, who traveled to Singapore between 2007 and 2011, were being investigated for possible connections with local militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT).
They were returned to Bangladesh on April 29 and were arrested in different parts of Dhaka on Tuesday, Sardar said. “We monitored their activities and then arrested them. A court granted seven-day police remand to them,” he added.
Islamist militants in Bangladesh have targeted atheist bloggers, academics, religious minorities and foreign aid workers in a series of killings that dates back to February 2015 and has claimed at least 20 lives.
Bangladesh authorities have said the ABT was behind the attacks on online critics of religious extremism and the killing last month of a gay rights campaigner and his friend.
The latest detentions were the second group of Bangladeshis investigated in the past six months in Singapore, which is host to around 150,000 workers from Bangladesh.
In January, Singapore said it had arrested 27 Bangladeshi construction workers who supported Islamist groups including al Qaeda and Islamic State late last year. All 27 have been deported.
Bangladesh said the same month it would charge 14 of those deported with membership of ABT.
Singapore said there was no indication of a group connection between the eight men recently detained and those arrested last year, although some of them were personally acquainted.
It identified the leader of the ISB group as Rahman Mizanur, who has been working intermittently in the city-state since 2007 and was employed as a draftsman in a local construction firm at the time of his arrest.
“Mizanur’s radicalization began around 2013 when he read radical material online,” the MHA said. “He became more radicalised after a Bangladeshi shared ISIS propaganda material with him when he was in Bangladesh in 2015.”
Workers’ rights groups say Bangladeshis are among the most economically vulnerable migrant groups in Singapore. NGOs say many work for wages as low as S$2 ($1.48) an hour and some do not get a day off.
Many mortgage their properties to pay fees to recruiting agencies to get jobs in the construction and marine industries or as cleaners. The fees can reach up to $15,000, the NGOs say.
Singapore said efforts to engage with the foreign worker population in the city-state were “ongoing”.
“MHA has worked with MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and an advisory was sent to dormitory operators for them to engage the foreign workers living in their quarters,” the statement said.
The ministry also said that there were currently 23 people detained for terrorism-related activities in Singapore under the Internal Security Act, a legacy of British rule that has been criticized by some rights groups.
Human Right Watch said in its 2015 World Report the act allowed authorities to detain people “for virtually unlimited periods without charge or judicial review”.
Reporting by Ruma Paul in DHAKA and Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE, Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Alex Richardson