Seoul to step up anti-terror efforts over ISIS threat

Guards at the main gate of a US air base in Gunsan, south of Seoul, on June 20, as vigilance has been beefed up amid an alleged threat by ISIS group to attack two American air bases in South Korea.
Guards at the main gate of a US air base in Gunsan, south of Seoul, on June 20, as vigilance has been beefed up amid an alleged threat by ISIS group to attack two American air bases in South Korea.PHOTO: EPA

South Korea has pledged to boost security measures against terrorist threats, amid growing concern that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group may be targeting the country's citizens and the United States military bases here.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn said yesterday that the country will beef up anti-terrorism measures to prevent any potential terrorist attack. This comes a day after the National Intelligence Service revealed that US airbases in Osan city in Gyeonggi province and Gunsan city in North Jeolla province are on a list of terror targets disseminated by ISIS via an Internet messaging service.

Noting that South Korea has been cited as a potential attack target by ISIS since last September, Mr Hwang also said the country's anti-terrorism centre will step up investigations and take all measures possible to safeguard public safety.

The announcement came as the South Korean military offered to provide security reinforcements to the US bases here to fend off any possible terrorist attack. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that they are working with the US-Korea Combined Forces Command to strengthen protection of US airbases here, and South Korea will provide security forces to the US "if there is a request".

Its National Police Agency had also said on Sunday that it is beefing up operational readiness against terrorism, and that it will work with US forces to share intelligence and increase regional patrol.

South Korea is not alone in the fight against terrorism in the region. China and Japan boosted security against ISIS after it abducted their citizens while they were overseas and executed them last year.

Concern over terrorism has grown in South Korea since last September, when ISIS named the country in a list of targets. Two months later, South Korea was included in an ISIS video showing flags of 60 countries that it considers as its enemies.

In March this year, ISIS released a YouTube video showing the personal details of 20 Koreans and urging its followers to find and kill these people.

This time round, ISIS called for attacks on 77 air force facilities belonging to the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 21 countries, including South Korea. The personal details of some individuals were also released, including a Korean woman working for a charity group that has no apparent link to the US bases here.

To better protect citizens against the terror threat, President Park Geun Hye and lawmakers from her Saenuri Party have been pushing for an anti-terrorism Bill to be passed since last year. It was passed in March this year but has not been implemented yet.

Some observers said Mr Hwang's comments may be aimed at winning public support for the Bill, which critics say infringes on personal privacy.

Dr Jang Ji Hyang of The Asan Institute for Policy Studies said: "Yes, we are concerned about ISIS and the risk of a terrorist attack, but a bigger concern to us is North Korea's nuclear threat."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Seoul to step up anti-terror efforts over ISIS threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe