SINGAPORE – Terror groups exist everywhere and Singapore is on their radar, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday.
That is why Singapore must be able to deal with a range of terror threats and know how to respond to them, he said.
The consequences can be quite disastrous if the country does not know how to react, and that can fracture society, he added.
PM Lee was speaking on Jurong Island following Exercise Northstar XI, a national-level exercise to test the readiness of agencies in the event of major crises.
Wednesday’s event involved more than 300 personnel from various organisations, including the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
It is the 11th edition of Exercise Northstar, which was introduced in 1997.
Several Cabinet ministers also observed the three-hour exercise, including Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo.
PM Lee said Singapore takes terrorism and terrorist threats very seriously.
He added that there are such activities in the region, and terror groups in the Middle East and other parts of the world have Singapore on their radar.
He said: “Sometimes, we also have home-grown self-radicalised individuals who are misguided. We try very hard, and we are lucky we catch them before they can do any harm. But one day, we may not be lucky, and therefore we have to take these exercises very seriously.”
PM Lee said a terrorist threat could come in the form of an individual attack, an attack on a facility or on an oil refinery of a petrochemical complex.
“The consequences can be quite disastrous if we don’t know how to react,” he said.
The simulated attack saw a group of “self-radicalised terrorists” planting explosive devices on large oil tanks and chemical pipelines all over Jurong Island before attempting to flee.
The parang-armed terrorists attacked auxiliary police officers who tried to stop them. An officer took one of the terrorists down, but another radical detonated the explosives.
SAF troops from the 9th Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (9 SIR) deployed on the island geared up to make the first counter-terrorist confrontation.
SAF’s Island Defence Task Force, which is responsible for protecting key installations, including on Jurong Island, was also activated.
Meanwhile, the SPF set up a forward command post and later took over command of the situation, with its Ground Response Force and Emergency Response Team taking down and arresting the perpetrators.
The SCDF set up a tactical headquarters to coordinate its response on the ground and to track the locations of its personnel as they dealt with two oil tank fires and a major chlorine leak from the ruptured pipelines caused by the bombs.
The Jurong Island Highway was immediately closed off by 9 SIR, auxiliary police officers and the SPF. It ensured an isolation distance of 200m from the affected pipelines which are on the Keppel Service Corridor, where workers and maintenance personnel can access the pipelines.
SCDF’s hazardous materials (hazmat) team began to contain the chlorine leak, using its hazmat control vehicle to identify dangerous substances and assess the extent of contamination.
SAF ambulances arrived to take victims to hospital, and the Ministry of Health set up a disaster site medical command, while its field medical teams treated casualties.
Over at ExxonMobil’s refining and petrochemical complex, in-house firefighting teams were the first on the scene to tackle the two oil tank fires.
SCDF then arrived with its modular oil tank firefighting system, dousing the fires with a foam solution.
Introduced in September 2022, this system can generate water flow of up to 100,000 litres a minute and can fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in 25 minutes.
Four large monitors, which discharge the foam solution, were used to extinguish the oil tank fires.
While the agencies were tackling the terrorists, fires and chlorine leak, a chlorine plume was forming over the western side of Jurong Island.
Staff of companies there were told to stay indoors, close all doors and windows, and switch off all ventilation and air-conditioning units.
The police ordered a sea evacuation, as evacuation by land was ruled out due to Jurong Island Highway being closed off to traffic as a security precaution against another attack on Jurong Island Checkpoint.
Vessels from the SCDF, the Republic of Singapore Navy and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore took people to safety on mainland Singapore.
PM Lee said Wednesday’s exercise tests the equipment the nation has to deal with such threats, and evaluates the coordination among different agencies should such attacks occur.
“(The exercise makes) sure that everything works, and if you press the button, we are there. I am glad that the exercise has gone well,” he said.
Addressing what an individual can do to deal with terrorism, PM Lee said one has to be alert and know how to respond should a terrorist attack happen.
“We have to work with one another in Singapore so that we can mobilise our resources to deal with the problem,” he said.
“We also have to be completely united as one people because the threat of terrorism is not just the person who was hurt or the storage tank which has blown up.
“But it is the fracture in our society, which takes a very, very long time to heal. And we must never let that fracture happen to us,” he added.