S'pore stages its biggest anti-terror exercise

A "terrorist" strapping an explosive vest on a hostage in a cinema, as part of a media preview to an islandwide counter-terrorism exercise that started yesterday and is set to end early this morning. The exercise comes as Singapore ramps up its readi
A "terrorist" strapping an explosive vest on a hostage in a cinema, as part of a media preview to an islandwide counter-terrorism exercise that started yesterday and is set to end early this morning. The exercise comes as Singapore ramps up its readiness in tackling terror attacks.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

18-hour operation involving Home Team and SAF simulates multiple attacks islandwide

Heavily armed troops from the police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) turned out in force yesterday across the island, from Marina Bay to Jurong East, to seek out and neutralise a mock terror threat in the country's largest counter-terrorism exercise yet.

The 18-hour operation involved over 3,200 officers, including those from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and other Home Team agencies. It climaxed at malls in Bishan and Tampines, where "terrorists" armed with M-16 rifles and explosive vests took hostages, including in a cinema, before being subdued early this morning.

Earlier yesterday, joint patrols between police and the SAF's Island Defence Task Force, which protects key installations here, were stepped up at over 360 locations such as the financial centre, public transport nodes, shopping malls, residential areas and immigration checkpoints - after intelligence about an imminent attack was received.

There are two reasons for the exercise, said the police. One is to test the combined response between the Home Team and SAF. The other is to raise public awareness of "the current threat landscape and to encourage continued vigilance".

Over 50 community volunteers took part in the operation, which began at 10am yesterday and was set to end at 4am today. The exercise comes as Singapore ramps up its readiness in tackling terror attacks.

On Sept 24, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched SGSecure, a nationwide movement that aims to increase the public's preparedness and resilience.

Last Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, launched an SMS alert system that will notify people if there is a major emergency nearby.

The police in June also launched their Emergency Response Teams, which comprise police land division officers trained in counter-assault. They took part in yesterday's exercise.

These developments are a response to the growing threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and self-radicalised lone wolves to Singapore and the region, at its highest level in recent times.

Indonesia arrested five members of a terror cell in Batam two months ago. The cell's leader had been planning a rocket attack on Marina Bay.

Last week, Malaysian police announced they had arrested 16 terror suspects following a two-week operation that spanned six states. The country faced its first ISIS attack in June when two men threw a grenade into a nightspot in Puchong, Selangor, injuring eight people.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also warned yesterday that the start of an operation by Iraqi forces to take back ISIS-controlled Mosul could lead to an exodus of the terror group's fighters to the region.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said large-scale exercises such as yesterday's are critical in testing the readiness and coordination of agencies in a terror attack.

He noted how it had been set up to replicate the more common terror scenarios seen today, in which small groups of terrorists hit public places at the same time, such as in the Paris attacks last November. He said: "With ISIS, the attack methodology has changed. Such exercises seek to emulate these attacks."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore stages its biggest anti-terror exercise'. Print Edition | Subscribe