The deeply worrying aspects of the terrorist outrages in Brussels this week, Jakarta earlier this year, and Paris last November are the tactic of striking multiple soft targets and the growing ability of groups to carry out such operations. In Belgium, there was an unnerving breach of airport security and intelligence failure, despite Brussels being known to offer "an ideal hiding place" for terrorists, as noted by an authority on Belgian security. The capital harbours jihadist sympathisers and its borders are open, being part of the European area which has no passport controls.
Plugging the security gaps in Europe will not be easy as it will require different state agencies to share information seamlessly in order to monitor risks. This will have to be done both among themselves and with their counterparts in other countries, some of which might be lagging in technical and security response capabilities. Meanwhile, terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is suspected to have grown a creeping web across Europe, gained access to skilled bombmakers, trained its jihadists to mount multiple attacks, and learnt to encrypt messages to foil anti-terrorist operatives.
It is against this troubling backdrop that Singaporeans ought to view the steps being taken here to enhance the nation's security architecture and to prepare all citizens for a terrorist attack. Government leaders have repeated, ominously, that it is no longer a question of if but when an attack hits home. Given the nature of the threat, nothing short of a comprehensive strategic response is required. Fast-moving serial attacks, for example, call for the addition of new emergency response teams capable of reaching all the places targeted by terrorists as quickly as possible. As the latter's aim is to sow confusion and stretch the nation's resources to the limit, greater coordination will be needed across agencies to rise above the situation. Faster responses will be possible with a significant expansion of the coverage of public and private closed-circuit TV cameras, combined with sophisticated real-time analysis of CCTV data.
Of course, security teams alone will not be enough as terrorists strive calculatedly to maximise harm, generate fear and divide society. Hence the need for the new national movement, dubbed SG Secure, to "sensitise, organise, train and exercise Singaporeans", in Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam's words. This must go beyond public awareness of the risks, tolerance of widespread surveillance and acceptance of screening measures at major events. To better deal with threats, Singaporeans should be also ready to render help when calamities strike. Being prepared for all emergencies and keeping one's head amid chaos will be crucial to defeat terror. Above all, it should not be allowed to break the Singapore spirit or tear asunder the country's hard-won unity.