Singapore Budget 2015: Singaporeans must stay united in event of terrorist attack, says DPM Teo Chee Hean

SINGAPORE - Despite the best efforts to guard against terrorist threats, it is not possible to ensure an attack will never happen in Singapore, said Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean on Friday.

So Singaporeans will have to band together and not allow such an incident to tear them apart, he added.

Speaking during the Committee of Supply debate on his Home Affairs Ministry's budget, Mr Teo said he agreed with concerns raised by Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC), who spoke on Thursday on the need to ensure Singaporeans are prepared for such a situation.

The Members of Parliament also said Singapore needs to maintain social cohesion and harmony in the wake of an attack.

Mr Teo said that the people who commit such attacks are looking to divide society, and strike fear among them, and Singaporeans by and large reject the views held by these extremists.

"If an incident were to occur, we must stand united as a community and condemn the violent acts of these particular individuals," he said.

"Such extreme views do not reflect the beliefs of the wider community, and indeed are rejected by them. As Singaporeans, we must continue to build on what we have in common, rather than accentuate our differences. We must carry on with our daily lives, reach out to each other, and not allow fear to paralyse our society."

Each and every Singaporean has an important part to play in ensuring this, said Mr Teo.

He also urged Singaporeans to alert the authorities if their friends or family members show signs of possibly having been radicalised.

He said: "Acting pre-emptively could help stop them from harming themselves and protect others from harm. Through such alerts, we have been able to refer young people who were becoming radicalised for religious counselling."

This comes as the war in Iraq and Syria continue to draw flocks of foreign fighters. Already, 20,000 of them have joined the battled - in higher numbers and from more countries than the people who joined the Afghanistan conflict in the 1980s. This includes about 350 from South-east Asia.

Upon their return, these fighters may be more prone to violence, said Mr Teo. And self-radicalised individuals influenced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could also carry out attacks at home, he added.

He pointed out that the Sydney siege last year, the Paris massacre this January, and the Copenhagen shooting just this February took place even when these countries were already on high alert.

To guard against such attacks, he said, the Home Team will ramp up border security, hardening infrastructure, and ensure they can respond swiftly to any threats that come to light, he said.

It will also continue to conduct exercises to hone its response, improve intelligence capabilities and work with international partners.

Mr Teo said Singapore takes decisive action early to place anyone who poses a threat to the country's security under detention or restriction orders.

Since 2002, 66 people have been detained under the Internal Security Act, of which 57 have been released.

Only nine remain in detention, and 21 persons are on restriction orders - including some who intended to take part in conflicts overseas, he said giving an official update of these figures.

"It is heartening that Singaporeans from all communities understand the fragility of our peace and harmony, and support the work of our security agencies," he said.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg