No room for tarrying in terror threat

A case, apparently of drug trafficking gone wrong, caused a security scare hardly ever witnessed in Singapore. The failed breach of a checkpoint, lying barely 250m from the venue of the Shangri-La Dialogue in the eponymous hotel early on Sunday morning, resulted in one man being shot dead and two arrested. The dead man was the driver of a car that had crashed through security barricades, forcing the police to fire.

Heroin found on the two passengers has led to them being charged with trafficking. Evidently, the driver tried to flee a police barrier which he could have believed to have been set up to nab drug traffickers. In the process, however, he ran up against a security cordon thrown around the Shangri-La Hotel to protect it from a terrorist attack.

Much as the loss of even a single life is cause for regret, events unfolded with a logic that reflects the paramount importance of public safety and order, including the lives of the policemen manning the checkpoint. The reflexes of the policemen, tested in reacting to an emergency, reflect well on their training and mental composure. Given the proximity of the hotel where Singapore's signature security conference was being held, they were right in suspecting the worst.

A terrorist attack on the venue could have cost the lives of many international luminaries attending the conference, including United States Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and senior officials from Asia and Europe.

The timing of the incident - in the early hours of the day, when indolence born of the long quietude of the night could be expected to dull the senses - reinforces the alertness of the policemen who responded to the refusal of the driver to stop and have the car boot checked. Split-second decisions are all that are possible in such situations. The officers involved must be commended for the professionalism and speed with which they prevented what could have been a disaster had the car been carrying not drugs but explosives. This was not a case of trigger-happy policemen gunning down an innocent who found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, but of the police acting quickly and decisively.

Would-be terrorists will no doubt draw lessons from the way this incident unfolded. Much of their effectiveness comes from the dastardly way they strike at unwary victims, and the lack of honed ability in the security agencies to confront an unexpected attack. Singapore's security calculus incorporates the countering of the psychological strategies of attackers who depend on guile to break through a nation's comfort zone. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has identified Singapore as a target. Being ready to respond to the terror threat will help keep Singapore safe.