Singaporeans need to know how to react when a terror attack happens, just as security forces conduct exercises to prepare their response to such a strike, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.
Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of an 18-hour operation that saw heavily armed officers from the police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) out in force across the island, Mr Teo underscored the important role every Singaporean plays in responding to an attack.
"No matter how fast the security forces react, there will always be the first few minutes where whatever you do yourself is important - to protect yourself, your friends and those around you," said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.
This week's drill comes as the terror threat is at its highest in years.
The police-led operation was the country's largest counter-terrorism exercise, and involved over 3,200 officers from Home Team agencies as well as the SAF. Community and grassroots leaders played a part too, with 60 volunteers participating in the operation to test their first aid and medical assistance skills.
The exercise ended at malls in Bishan and Tampines, where "terrorists" armed with M-16 rifles and explosive vests took hostages, including in a cinema, before being subdued early yesterday morning.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Lau Peet Meng said the exercise has given officers greater confidence in dealing with simultaneous attacks: "The exercise had allowed us to become more familiar with each other's operating procedure, instilling confidence, from our ground troops to the command elements, and also with the community... We are now better prepared to deal with such a contingency together."
DPM Teo said the exercise was important as it tested Home Team and SAF procedures jointly developed in recent months to respond in a coordinated way to a terror attack.
"There are also lessons to be learnt, which they will take back and improve," he added.
On reports of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters returning home, including to this region, as the terror group loses ground in Iraq and Syria, Mr Teo said "threat levels have been higher than we've seen for many, many years".
"Although the fight is on now in Syria and ISIL may be disrupted in Syria, that means that the terrorists who have gone there may well return home, and that is likely to increase the threat in our region," he said, using another name for ISIS.
"We have to take the threat seriously, not just the security forces but everyone in Singapore - to stay alert, stay united and stay strong," he added.
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