SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A handful of Singaporean citizens have gone to Syria to participate in the conflict there, raising concern about a terrorist threat in the city-state, a senior government official was quoted by a state-owned TV network as saying.
As Sunni Islamist rebels surge into Iraq from Syria, security officials in Southeast Asia and Australia worry that the conflict is radicalizing a new generation of militants, who are being influenced to an unprecedented degree by social media.
Teo Chee Hean, Singapore's deputy prime minister and home affairs minister, told parliament on Wednesday that Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali, a naturalized Singaporean citizen, had taken his wife and three children to Syria, Channel NewsAsia reported.
"The presence of former foreign fighters in our region - whether they originate from Southeast Asia or elsewhere - is a security threat to us," Teo said.
"The threat is magnified if these returnee fighters are Singaporeans."
A female Singaporean is also believed to have gone to Syria with her husband and two teenage children. Several others, including Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader, Zakaria Rosdan and Khairul Sofri Osman, were stopped before they could leave, Teo added.
The United States has urged countries in Europe and elsewhere to do more to keep their citizens from travelling to Syria to fight.
Teo compared the current Syria crisis to the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, which drew thousands of foreign fighters and led to the creation of Al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda, through Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, planned bomb attacks in Singapore in the early 2000s.
It is unclear with what group the Singaporeans are fighting. The Ministry of Home Affairs declined to comment on "operational matters", when contacted by Reuters.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore has told the city-state's Muslim community that the fighting in Syria is not for religious purposes and cautioned Muslims against being swayed into fighting the "holy war".
(Reporting by Rujun Shen; Additional reporting by Yantoultra Ngui in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)