Countering terrorism

Specially trained emergency teams

Dr Tan says the new teams can help stop an attack in progress more quickly.
Dr Tan says the new teams can help stop an attack in progress more quickly.

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New police teams that are tactically trained, mentally prepared and equipped to respond quickly to a terrorist attack will be set up to beef up Singapore's response to the terror threat.

These Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) will be able to respond to attacks happening simultaneously at multiple locations. They will be trained with counter-assault skills, and given the necessary weapons.

It is one of the three key initiatives that Singapore will roll out to fight terrorism, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told senior Home Team officials yesterday. He did not say when the teams will be introduced.

Mr Shanmugam warned that the threat of a terrorist attack may be at its highest level yet.

"When an attack takes place, the speed and manner in which we respond will be critical," he said. He noted that during the Paris attacks last November, there were substantial periods when the terrorists operated with little or no hindrance. The attacks organised by the terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria left 130 dead.

One officer had arrived at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris 15 minutes into the attack, and managed to stall the killing by shooting an attacker.

"But this officer was then ordered to withdraw in favour of a more specialised anti-terrorism unit - that unit arrived half an hour into the assault. By that time, the killing was effectively over," said Mr Shanmugam.

He added that the police will reorganise forces here, "enhance their firepower and operational capability, and deploy them in a way so they can arrive faster at any location". This was critical, as terrorists now aim to kill as many people as they can and inflict maximum fear and damage, he added.

There would be more boots on the ground, with more police officers and ERTs trained, said Mr Shanmugam.

"Day to day, (the ERTs) will patrol the terrain and engage stakeholders to build familiarity with the areas they will be in charge of. The aim is to significantly upgrade our immediate response capability," he said.

The ERTs, which will be equipped with special counter-assault skills and weapons, will engage attackers until a second wave of forces arrive. The response time of these forces - which include specialist teams from the Special Operations Command and the Gurkha Contingent - will also be enhanced.

"They will be enabled to arrive at the scene faster; on top of this, the Home Team will also work more closely with the Singapore Armed Forces to deal with the threat, where necessary," said Mr Shanmugam.

Retired police superintendent Lee Swee Thin believes that the ERTs can respond swiftly. "They will probably be based in strategic locations to cover vulnerable areas," he said.

Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng, who is on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said Singapore "must keep on enhancing our capabilities, readiness and social cohesion".

He said: "The new ERTs will help us to more quickly stop an attack in progress and minimise loss of innocent lives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'Specially trained emergency teams'. Print Edition | Subscribe