Attack in Nice underlines ever-present threat of terrorism, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore cannot assume that it will always be spared from terror attacks.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore cannot assume that it will always be spared from terror attacks.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

ULAANBAATAR - The recent lone wolf attack in Nice that left 84 people dead and many more injured underlines the ever-present threat of terrorism, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (July 16).

He added that Singapore cannot assume that it will always be spared from terror attacks, which have been happening closer to home.

"We know that terrorists have the intention to attack Singapore. They have not succeeded so far, but one day they may breach our safety net and enter Singapore, so we need to be prepared," he told Singapore reporters at an interview.

Mr Lee was wrapping up his four-day trip to Mongolia, where he made an official visit and also attended the 11th Asia Europe Meeting Summit.

Asked about the attack in Nice, where 31-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day, he said the mode of attack was shocking but not surprising as terrorists have used cars in the past, though not on such a big scale.

"You can prevent a bomber, you can prevent somebody who comes with a gun, but what do you do with somebody who takes a kitchen knife or somebody who takes a car or a truck? " he said adding it was not possible to prevent such attacks completely by hardening security.

Citing the spate of recent terror attacks in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, he said: "We must expect sooner or later somebody will break through. Then we must be prepared. We must know these things happen, they are bad. but we have to pick ourselves up and we must continue as one nation and life must carry on."

He added that the Government had been preparing for such attacks since the terror attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001, when planes crashed into the World Trade Centre in the US city.

Over the years, there have been more community engagement programmes, and Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs has recently launched the SG Secure initiative, a new national programme that aims to rally Singaporeans, foster resilience and prepare them to handle crises, Mr Lee said.

But he added: "I think we can prepare, but the first time it happens it will still be a shock, we must expect that. And we just have to prepare as well as we can so that when it happens we have the best chance of coming through and standing and not disintegrating."

Terrorism was also the subject of Mr Lee's speech at the Asem leader's retreat on Saturday morning, during which he spoke about the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

On Friday, the 51 countries represented this year at summit issued a joint statement condemning the attack in Nice and the recent spate of terror attacks around the world

Mr Lee called on governments around the world to "fight this threat together and cooperate more", adding that Singapore supports the international initiatives against terrorism and welcomes greater collaboration between Asem members.

To combat the threats, countries can work together in the area of cutting funding for ISIS, countering their radical ideology, and securing borders so terrorists are unable to travel, he said.

They can also share intelligence, he added citing how this has helped Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia foil terrorist plots and arrest numerous terrorists.

Beyond this, "we have to encourage our societies to hold together, and not discriminate and marginalise any community", he said.

Society should also not give up on those who have been radicalised, and should instead help these people see the error in their thinking and re-integrate them into mainstream life.

"Then slowly but surely, we will win the war on terrorism," he said.