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Why It Matters

Batam plot a stark reminder

A plan by the leader of a terrorist cell in Batam to fire a rocket at Marina Bay brought to mind the terror plots uncovered by the Internal Security Department (ISD) in 2001.

That year, the ISD disrupted plans by Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorists to attack targets in Singapore, including hijacking an airliner and crashing it into Changi Airport. Among the evidence was a chilling video of Yishun MRT station, recorded by the JI to study if buses that ferry US military personnel to and from the station could be hit.

Almost 15 years on, the terrorist threat - now from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its loyalists elsewhere - remains. In July, US Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey warned that terrorists returning from Syria and local ISIS sympathisers pose an even greater threat, as seen in Paris and Brussels this year. Such ISIS-inspired attacks occur so often that they have become a regular fixture of the news cycle. They take place not just in faraway places like France or Iraq, but also nearer home, in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted in his National Day Rally address on Sunday that 12 radicalised Singaporeans had been arrested in the past two years, including a few prepared to attack Singapore.

Last week, just days after the Batam rocket attack plot was uncovered, the Ministry of Home Affairs said two Singaporeans planning to travel to Syria to join the ISIS had been detained under the Internal Security Act. Another two were placed on Restriction Orders.

While there is merit in the analysis that the Batam militants do not have the capabilities to launch a rocket attack, the case is a stark reminder that Singapore remains a prized target for terrorists.

The arrests also underline the ominous reality that it is not a question of if, but when, Singapore will be hit by terrorists, foreign or domestic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Batam plot a stark reminder'. Print Edition | Subscribe