Threat of Terrorism in Singapore

“I was waiting for the gate to open for my flight to Frankfurt when a member of the restaurant staff rushed over and said “everyone out, everyone out”. No one knew what was going on.” (Journalist in Brussels)

“The concert had started. I was in the audience and I heard what sounded like a firecracker. It was loud but the gig was very loud and I thought it was something that was part of the show.” (Concert goer from France)

“A party was being held for classes nine and 10 and so a small number of children were there. On the upper floor, exams were being held for classes 11 and 12 and the students were sitting there.” (Schoolboy from Pakistan)

(Featured Photo: Independence Day: Resurgence movie still via Art of VFX)

Wherever in the world that it happens, the moments leading up to a terrorist attack is one of routine normalcy. Then, in a flash, everything changes. The world has been living under the heightened threat of terrorism for the last 15 years, or longer by some measures. However, each incident still leaves everyone deeply shocked and its dark hand often falls heavily, unexpectedly and deliberately.

The 2016 global year-to-date tally is sobering; 97 terrorist incidences in January, 68 in February, 108, 150, 197, 218, 194 in the following months respectively, and 38 so far in August. Although most incidents still occur within countries with an unstable government, along with the growing trend of anti-globalisation and dwindling acceptance of ideological plurality, there have been devastating occurrences in more familiar parts of the world like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and France to name a few.


Singapore itself, is not immune. It has a history of dealing with terrorism successfully and has in recent times averted disaster. Timely apprehension of individuals like Mas Selamat, the 27 South Asians detained by ISA and Muhammad Aslam Yar Ali Khan, who all have links to regional terrorist organisations. Further back in time, Singapore has weathered both the Malayan Emergency and Konfrontasi – dark periods in our history where neither life nor property could be assured.

The main identifiable terrorist threats to Singapore come from the group known as Jemaah Islamiah (J.I.) and more recently, with a rocket attack planned to strike the Marina Bay Sands building from Batam, the KGR@Katibah GR. The threats increase with their connections to other global terrorist organisations that have shown considerable success at attracting followers through the internet and via social media. The danger is both conventional and unconventional and could come from within our borders through lone wolf attacks, through conventional immigration borders or from just outside our borders within close proximity.


(Photo: Al-Alam News Network)

Terrorism in itself is not a mechanism to win a war. It’s objectives are to build morale amongst its ranks, break down their adversary’s resove and to advertise themselves. Singapore finds itself in a position where its success in the region, its strategic position on vital shipping lanes, and its globalised economy have made it a choice target to make a powerful demonstration. The country’s economic and diplomatic ties have also contributed greatly to putting us on the hit list, as a proxy target.

This has not gone unnoticed by the authorities or the general populace. In a poll by the national newspaper, The Straits Times, 75% of those polled believe that Singapore will face a terror attack in the future. However, 35% believed that the country is ill equipped to deal with the threat and aftermath, with a further 11%, undecided on the matter.

The fact is, that security has been beefed up dramatically in the last 10 years. This has been activated on two fronts. The first approach is where potential attackers are sought out and neutralised. This involves increased military and police patrols to detect and immediate address anything amiss.


(Photo: The Online Citizen)

Specialised response teams, called New Emergency Response Teams were formed and fielded to respond swiftly, engage attackers and minimise casualties. Also roped into the effort are ordinary citizens who, through public service campaigns, are urged to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity.

Tapping on technology, surveillance both online and through public CCTV installations has increased. The network of CCTVs is planned to grow by 11,000 over the next 4 years, complementing the 65,000 that are already in place to deter any kind of criminal activity.

The second, focuses on prevention. Individuals and communities most at risk of turning to extremist action are engaged through discussions and inclusiveness. This strategy of winning “hearts and minds”, is perhaps the most cruital, as divisiveness in this environment where everyone is at risk from terrorism, is the very thing that will exacerbate the gravity of the situation, and is perhaps even one of its chief causes.


(Photo: Christopher Chen/ Home Team News)

How do countries, not as fortunate to be blessed with a secure living environment, pull through difficult times when tragedy strikes? The concept of shrugging off adversity and growing stronger in spite of it has been coined as Urban resilience.

It requires a concerted effort between government and citizens, in an environment of solidarity and trust; only then, can a civil society beat back the menace of terrorism.

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