SINGAPORE – Their first target was the Century Square shopping mall in Tampines. Walking brazenly into the mall, four “terrorists” started firing without warning. Shoppers who were not killed or injured, ran for cover and called the cops.
Moments later, the first responders from the police’s Ground Response Force and Emergency Response Team arrived on the scene, and they soon overwhelm and kill the four gunmen.
This daring attack set the scene for the islandwide counter-terrorism exercise that culminated in simulated coordinated attacks on shopping malls in Bishan and Tampines in the wee hours of Tuesday (Oct 18) morning.
The scenario was part of Singapore’s largest counter-terrorism exercise. The 18-hour operation led by the police, started on Monday (Oct 17) morning, and ended at 4am on Tuesday (Oct 18). It involved over 3,200 officers, including those from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), other Home Team agencies and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
In Tampines, police officers pursued the terrorists as they moved from Century Square to the adjacent Tampines Mall. Along the way, the Special Operations Command’s Anti-Swarming Teams were activated to also deal with the threat.
At the Tampines Mall atrium, the officers encountered a terrorist wearing a suicide vest – but before he could detonate it, he was shot and killed. Later, in an act of desperation, the remaining terrorists holed up in the Golden Village cinema taking about 35 movie-goers hostage.
They barged into cinema hall 1 as a movie played, firing blanks at the ceiling, and yelling: “Get down and shut up!”
They commanded hostages to take pictures and post them on social media. To let the hostages know they were not joking, they picked a man at random and shot him in front of the crowd.
"All of you better cooperate with us, or I will make sure you suffer and die," said one of the terrorists.
Later, one of the hostages was strapped with a suicide vest as he cried for help.
Said one of the terrorists: "We are ready to die, are you?"
This was when the SAF’s Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) was called in. The SOTF officers ended the siege in a flash. Armed with night-vision goggles, they fired blanks from their HK-416 assault rifles and P-90 submachine guns in the darkness, quickly neutralising the terrorists.
By the time the lights came on seconds later, all but one of the terrorists were dead. The one remaining terrorist rose to take a potshot at an officer as the team checked the aisles, but he too was quickly dispatched.
"Everyone listen up, we are from the Singapore Armed Forces, we are here to rescue you," said one of the officers to the hostages.
Outside the cinema, police officers formed a security cordon - the exercise was meant to test coordination between different agencies.
The moviegoers, played by SAF servicemen, were swiftly marched out with their hands on their heads, while the hostage who had explosives strapped onto him had the suicide vest removed.
It was later "detonated" in a controlled explosion inside the cinema hall, after the SOTF officers and hostages had left.
By then, SCDF officers have arrived on the scene at Tampines Mall to tend to the wounded. Those inside the mall were quickly brought to the first aid point outside, where a medical support vehicle, or mobile hospital, was waiting to tend to those with serious injuries.
Community responders trained in CPR and first aid had also been activated to tend to the injured and help perform triage.
One of them was accountant, Madam Rama Diwakar, who was helping bandage the wounded outside the malls. Speaking to The Straits Times after the exercise, Madam Rama, 45, said: “This is really very realistic. We’ve learnt how to treat patients without losing our cool.”
In another exercise, four gunmen blazed their way into Junction 8 Shopping Centre in a surprise attack just before 1am on Tuesday (Oct 18).
SAF and police personnel were put to the test with a "cold start" exercise at the Bishan mall, where they reacted to an active shooter scenario unrehearsed.
Pops of gunfire and cries for help from "shoppers" could be heard from outside Junction 8 when police officers arrived on the scene.
The Emergency Response Team officers, specially trained in counter-assault skills and armed with HK-MP 5 submachine guns, moved in tight formation as they entered the mall to neutralise the attackers.
In the second wave of response, the Army Deployment Force (ADF), a new rapid response unit set up by the SAF in July, showcased its operational readiness in its first deployment exercise.
Arriving on the scene in Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicles, soldiers set up a cordon around the perimeter of the mall to contain the shooters.
Meanwhile, SOTF officers spilled out of unmarked vans, entering the building through a staircase at the mall's loading bay.
Among the escaping shoppers were three "sleeper" gunmen, who were quickly identified and "killed" by ground forces.
By about 2.20am, with the smell of smoke heavy in the air, all seven gunmen had been neutralised.
In the last part of the operation, officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority would go on to nab a “terrorist” attempting to flee the country.