S'pore not immune to threat of radicalisation, society must remain vigilant: Wong Kan Seng

Launch of the S. Rajaratnam Endowment, a non-profit philanthropic organisation set up by Temasek to recognise Singapore's first and longest-serving Foreign Minister. The threats posed by groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extend
Launch of the S. Rajaratnam Endowment, a non-profit philanthropic organisation set up by Temasek to recognise Singapore's first and longest-serving Foreign Minister. The threats posed by groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extend far beyond the areas where they currently operate, and Singapore and other countries are not immune, former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng (centre left) said on Tuesday. --  ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

SINGAPORE - The threats posed by groups like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extend far beyond the areas where they currently operate, and Singapore and other countries are not immune, former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng said on Tuesday.

He said the vigilance of security services against such threats "must ultimately be augmented by the vigilance of the society itself".

Mr Wong, who was also former Home Affairs Minister, was speaking at a seminar jointly organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Singapore Press Holdings titled "The New Threat Landscape".

He said Singapore has been fortunate to have the support of Muslim religious leaders and scholars, as well as volunteers and others to build trust and resilience in society here.

"Their efforts have given us a strong foundation of communal trust and social cohesion which will help Singapore and Singaporeans stay alert against the threat and stay united in the event of any incident. To-date, we have been successful in keeping the terrorism threat at bay. But I worry that the general public might think that the Syrian conflict, the ISIL are happenings far away, and would not affect us," he said, referring to ISIS by its other name, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

"The irony is, the more successful we are in our counter-terrorism efforts, the more the urgency and cogency of the terrorism threat will diminish in the public's consciousness. We need every resident to be vigilant against this threat. Should we one day be unable to stop a bomb from exploding or a murderous act by an ISIL supporter in Singapore, I hope Singaporeans will have the resilience to overcome the attack, cope with the crisis and maintain our social cohesion."

In his speech, Mr Wong looked back at the threat that Singapore faced in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. This included the discovery here of a local network of the regional Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organisation and their plans, which included attacks against several targets in Singapore.

He said that the conflict in Syria and ISIS have given "new impetus" to existing jihadist groups in the region. And he noted that more than 350 Southeast Asians are reported to have gone to participate in the Syrian conflict, including two Singaporeans.

Mr Wong's speech was made ahead of the launch of a book, "Old Wars, New Methods", written by former Straits Times senior writer M. Nirmala. The book, published by The Straits Times Press, details new developments of the terror threat. It costs $15 (including GST) and will be available at major bookstores from Wednesday.

waltsim@sph.com.sg