Spotlight on security\The terror threat

From Manchester to Mindanao, ISIS a global menace

Acts of violence taking place on different sides of the world this past week emphasised how much terrorism remains a global menace.

On Monday night, a bomb exploded in the foyer outside the venue of a pop concert in Manchester, England, killing 22 and injuring more than 100.

A day later, martial law was declared on Mindanao, a group of islands in the southern Philippines, after 100 militants laid siege to a major city there.

Both attacks were linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and were the latest reminders of how the group has emerged as the main terror threat in recent years.

Closer to home, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a bus terminal in Jakarta on Wednesday, killing three policemen.

Singapore, as a financial hub and a participant in the United States- led international coalition against ISIS, is a high-value target.

This is why the Singapore Government has constantly stressed the heightened threat levels here. Two weeks ago, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, speaking at a mari- time trade show, described ISIS terrorists as "a clear and present threat to this region".

There are over 1,000 South-east Asian ISIS fighters now in Iraq and Syria. "Some of these fighters will return to our region, bringing with them their extremist ideologies and expertise," he said.

Indeed, the Katibah Nusantara, or Malay Archipelago Unit for ISIS, was launched last year with the purpose of establishing an ISIS-like caliphate in South-east Asia.


Police at the scene of the recent bombing in Manchester, England. The Singapore Government has constantly stressed the heightened threat levels here as the Republic is a high-value target. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

That ISIS has established a foothold in the region demonstrates the allure of the group's propaganda and Singapore is not immune to its radical teachings.

The number of terror-linked arrests here has spiked in the last few years, with 58 people - including 18 Singaporeans - nabbed under the Internal Security Act since January 2015. Between 2007 and 2014, 11 Singaporeans were arrested for links to terrorism.

Most were self-radicalised after being exposed to extremist material found on the Internet and other channels.

Last year, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said: "ISIS presents a far graver threat than Al-Qaeda and its affiliates ever were."

STEPPING UP SECURITY AT HOME

The authorities have stepped up efforts to raise awareness of the security risk. Last September, The SGSecure national movement was launched to sensitise, train and mobilise Singaporeans in preventing terrorism and dealing with its aftermath.

Two weeks ago, the Religious Rehabilitation Group organised a forum focusing on how women can fall victim to the allure of extremism, and the role they can play in countering radical ideology.

Seaborne terrorism - in particular, in the Sulu Sea off south-west Philippines - was a topic discussed at the Shangri-La Dialogue last year.

Since early last year, there have been 15 maritime attacks and over 60 crew members of ships kidnapped by the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf Group in the waters.

In March this year, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines announced that they will conduct joint patrols in the Sulu Sea.

Singapore has offered the assistance of the Changi Naval Base's Information Fusion Centre, which provides maritime data.

The number of terror-linked arrests here has spiked in the last few years, with 58 people - including 18 Singaporeans - nabbed under the Internal Security Act since January 2015.

The perennial issue will feature again at this year's edition of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

But the conversation might be shaped by US President Donald Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia a week ago, in which he blamed Iran for fuelling sectarian conflict and terror and said the battle against terror was one between good and evil.

All eyes will be on US Secretary of Defence James Mattis, who will be in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, to see if he will continue to take this tack on the topic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'From Manchester to Mindanao, ISIS a global menace'. Print Edition | Subscribe