SINGAPORE - Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara had been on Singapore authorities' radar for some time, for having influenced and radicalised some people here.
Among them was a 17-year-old who subscribed to his teachings, believed in suicide bombing as an act of martyrdom and was detained under the Internal Security Act in January 2020, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Monday (May 23).
The teenager had watched Somad's YouTube lectures and began to believe that fighting for the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and dying as a suicide bomber would lead to rewards in heaven.
"So you can see Somad's preachings have real-world consequences," said Mr Shanmugam.
Somad was turned away at Singapore's borders last Monday (May 16) over what the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) called "extremist and segregationist teachings, which are unacceptable in Singapore's multi-racial and multi-religious society".
The preacher has a sizeable following back home, where he is a divisive figure. He had previously been denied entry to Hong Kong, Timor Leste, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain.
Following Singapore's move, Somad's online supporters spammed the social media pages of President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and several other political office-holders and agencies, leaving hashtags like #SaveUstadzAbdulSomad.
Speaking to reporters at MHA's headquarters, Mr Shanmugam said that one comment - since removed by Facebook parent company Meta - threatened an attack on Singapore "like 9/11 in New York 2001".
Somad had travelled to Singapore from Batam with six other persons but was put on a boat back to the Indonesian port after being interviewed by immigration officials at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.
Explaining the decision, MHA noted last week how Somad has preached that suicide bombings are legitimate in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and are considered 'martyrdom' operations.
Somad has also publicly referred to non-Muslims as kafirs or infidels.
Mr Shanmugam on Monday said that someone saying this in Singapore would be visited by the Internal Security Department and put behind bars.
"The language, the rhetoric, as you can see, is very divisive, completely unacceptable in Singapore," he said. "Racial, religious harmony - we consider (these) fundamental to our society and most Singaporeans accept that.
"Somad, we have known of him for some time - some of the people that ISD has investigated in Singapore for radicalisation, one of the things we picked up is that they were watching videos of Somad; were following his preachings," Mr Shanmugam added.
Last Friday, the cleric's supporters also gathered outside the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and the Singapore consulate-general in Medan to protest against the Republic's decision and call for an apology, among other demands.
"This is my own perspective - the denial has given him publicity," said Mr Shanmugam. "So he's making maximum use of the publicity and here, now, in my view, engaging in more publicity stunts, he says that he will try to enter Singapore again."
The reason given by Somad, in a YouTube video posted on Wednesday, was that Singapore was a "Malay land" and part of Riau as well as a "Temasek Malay Kingdom".
"Therefore our sovereignty is irrelevant (and) we are not a separate country from his perspective," said Mr Shanmugam. "Many of his supporters, mostly in Indonesia, have been riled up. They say Singapore is being 'disrespectful towards Muslims and Islamic religious scholars'."
One of his supporters' accounts was disabled by Meta for violating community standards after it left a comment on social media saying: "Dear you the leaders of Singapore, the Islamophobic countries, we are waiting 2x 24 hours to apologize to the Indonesian people and Muslims… If you ignore our warning, then we will not hesitate to expel the ambassador of your country. We will send Islamic defender troops… to attack your country like 9/11 in New York 2001. And we will also expel Singaporeans who pretend to transit and live in Indonesia."
Mr Shanmugam noted that this was a "very direct threat linking to 9/11".
According to reports, the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), the country's highest Muslim clerical council, has also slammed Singapore's move to block Somad.
But his views have been criticised by mainstream Muslim leaders in Indonesia, and the country's National Counterterrorism Agency has backed Singapore's stance, calling it a lesson in combating radical ideology which could lead to terrorism.
Mr Shanmugam described the response of the Indonesian government as very proper and very correct.
"It accepts that it's for Singapore to decide who can come into Singapore - absolutely right, just like it's for Indonesia to decide who can go into Indonesia; it's for every country to decide who can go into that country. Basic aspect of sovereignty," he said.
The minister added that the majority of Indonesians "recognise what Somad and his supporters are really up to". These supporters do not respect Singapore as a separate country, Mr Shanmugam reiterated.
"I'm grateful that so many Indonesians, officials as well as commentators, have rejected these claims and have defended Singapore. They know the accusations against Singapore are false," he said.
"I have said this on many occasions - we take a zero-tolerance approach and even-handed approach towards any form of hate speech and divisive ideology. And it's not directed at any specific individual, or a specific religion, or any specific nationality. Our position applies equally to all."