Asia steps up security to protect new year revellers

Indonesian police officers patrolling at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport on Dec 30.
Indonesian police officers patrolling at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport on Dec 30. PHOTO: AFP

Measures extend beyond capital cities this year, following terrorist attacks worldwide

From South-east Asia's tallest twin towers in Kuala Lumpur to Indonesia's busiest roundabout to the CentralWorld mall in Bangkok, officials in Asia have thrown a security blanket to protect these places and more, as hundreds of thousands of revellers are set to greet the new year.

Security has been ratcheted up this year in more than just the capital cities, officials say, following terrorist attacks in cities around the world this year, including at Bangkok's Erawan Shrine in August where 20 people died.

In Shanghai, an additional priority is to prevent overcrowding at popular haunts and countdown events, as the Chinese city marks one year since a stampede killed 36 revellers at the waterfront Bund area on New Year's Eve.

 
 
 
 

Reflecting the importance of the security preparations, Turkish police yesterday detained in Ankara two suspected suicide bombers linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who were plotting an attack on New Year's Eve in the capital, a Turkish official told Agence France-Presse.

China's security agencies have taken action to curb rumours. Two senior executives at a company in southern Shenzhen have been detained for telling their staff that they received a police tip-off on the arrival of 300 ISIS militants from the restive Xinjiang region into the city.

The big countdown parties that span the globe will start in New Zealand and Australian cities and follow the sunset into the Western Hemisphere cities such as Las Vegas and San Francisco in the US.

In Malaysia, police say they are keeping a close eye on the tourist shopping district of Bukit Bintang and areas around the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.

Kuala Lumpur police chief Tajuddin Md Isa said security is tighter this year compared to previous years in the light of recent terror attacks. He did not divulge any figures on the personnel deployed.

In Indonesia, police have deployed since the Christmas season 150,000 personnel to guard public places including churches and the always-busy Bundaran H.I. roundabout in the tourist district.

On Christmas Eve in 2000, near simultaneous attacks on churches in Jakarta by Jemaah Islamiah militants killed 18 people.

"We are doing our utmost to ensure people can celebrate New Year's Eve safely," Indonesian national police chief Badrodin Haiti told reporters on Tuesday.

This year, police nabbed more than 70 militants, many of them with advanced attack plans, compared with about 90 last year.

Police raids against three militant cells this month netted several leading figures as well as evidence that they were grooming suicide bombers. Two militants with ready-to- use bombs managed to escape one raid, highlighting the significant threat from militants.

In Thailand, about 10,000 Thai police and city hall law enforcers are to be deployed across 11 sites across Bangkok tonight.

Key access points will have metal detectors, and some 4,000 police officers will be deployed at one site alone where some 200,000 partygoers are expected to gather - CentralWorld Plaza in downtown Bangkok, the city's most popular New Year's Eve countdown site.

Earlier in the evening, roadside stalls will be cleared from the area, and a bomb squad will be on standby.

Highlighting the security threat, it was revealed recently that Russian intelligence had tipped off the Thais about the presence in Thailand of ISIS militants intending to attack Russian targets. Pattaya and Phuket are the favourite destinations of Russian tourists.

In the Philippines, thousands of policemen are keeping a watch on airports, bus terminals, harbours and train stations, as millions head for the provinces for the new year holidays.

The security level is also high to deal with incidents involving firecrackers, pyrotechnics and fires.

In China, major cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Xi'an have deployed more security personnel and resources since Christmas Eve, especially after several foreign embassies issued warnings of potential attacks against Westerners in the capital.

Senior government and police officials have conducted inspections of security preparations, and specifically instructed security personnel to prevent stampedes and fires.

In India, the police have banned all boat parties on New Year's Eve in Mumbai, the target of terror attacks in 2008 when terrorists entered the city from the sea.

In Singapore, security will be stepped up for countdown celebrations at Marina Bay.

•Reporting by Eunice Au (Kuala Lumpur), Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja (Jakarta), Nirmal Ghosh (Bangkok), Raul Dancel (Manila), Kor Kian Beng (Beijing) and Nirmala Ganapathy (New Delhi)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2015, with the headline 'Asia steps up security to protect new year revellers'. Print Edition | Subscribe