Man jailed 18 months for fake bomb threat online

A hoax threat to bomb City Hall posted on a little known social media website triggered 95 per cent of Public Transport Security Command’s manpower to be diverted to 18 MRT stations along the East-West, North-South and North-east Lines.
A hoax threat to bomb City Hall posted on a little known social media website triggered 95 per cent of Public Transport Security Command’s manpower to be diverted to 18 MRT stations along the East-West, North-South and North-east Lines.PHOTO: ST FILE

Such hoaxes waste resources and divert attention from guarding against real threats, says judge

Anyone posting bomb hoaxes or fake threats of terrorism will be punished with substantial jail time to deter such behaviour.

Such hoaxes squander anti-terror resources and could lead to a risk of real terror threats going under the radar, endangering the country, a judge said in explaining the sentence handed down to 23-year-old Sze Kai Xuan for a bomb hoax.

The former marketing executive was sentenced to 18 months in jail last month for claiming he was going to bomb a national icon in the heart of the city. He is appealing against the sentence and is out on bail.

On Jan 14, Sze posted on social media under the moniker Constantine S that: "Today is the day everyone, cherish it before I bomb City Hall."

After being alerted by a member of the public, nearly the entire police task force in charge of protecting public transport was deployed to 18 MRT stations to look out for suspicious objects and people.

Highlighting the "enormous disruption" the hoax caused, District Judge Shawn Ho said in his judgment grounds issued on Monday that not only were key resources such as manpower and equipment wasted, but also and "perhaps most importantly" - attention.

When anti-terror forces are "diverted to responding to false threats, valuable attention is removed from guarding against actual threats of terror attacks". This, stressed the judge, endangers "all of us".

He also pointed out how easily and quickly a post on social media can spread and cause public panic.

Sze's fake threat was uploaded at around 10am, as an addition to his profile on a social networking site. He knew other users would be able to see it. At 11.40am that day, a terror attack had taken place outside a major shopping mall in Jakarta, killing four civilians. Police here were put on heightened alert.

"Understandably, until such time as the authorities are able to determine that the threat is false, any threat made has to be treated as genuine," said Judge Ho.

This is especially so with the global terror threat, which he described as "ever-present and at its highest level in recent times, even graver than after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks on New York's (World) Trade Center and the arrest of Jemaah Islamiah members (in 2001)" - highlighting the point made by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in a speech earlier this year to senior Home Team officers. In that speech, he described the serious threat that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria poses to Singapore and the region.

Police apprehended Sze at about 11pm the day he posted the hoax by tracing him through his account.

Sze's lawyer Chia Boon Teck urged the court to consider placing him on probation, citing his age, cooperation with the authorities and excellent national service record, which included being conferred Battalion Best Soldier.

Sze, who pleaded guilty under the United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Regulations, claimed he had been frustrated at the longer academic route he had to take compared to those who did not do NS.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'Man jailed 18 months for fake bomb threat online'. Print Edition | Subscribe