SINGAPORE - Heavily armed troops from the police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) turned out in force from Monday (Oct 17) to the early hours of Tuesday (Oct 18) across the island, from Marina Bay to Jurong East, to seek out and neutralise a mock terror threat in the country's largest counter-terrorism exercise yet.
The 18-hour operation involved over 3,200 officers, including those from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and other Home Team agencies.
It climaxed 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 Tuesday morning.
Speaking to reporters at its conclusion, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the multi-agency exercise was important as it stress-tested the Home Team and SAF’s coordination procedures developed to nullify terror attacks should they occur here.
“Over the last several months, both the Home Team and the SAF have worked together to develop new SOPs, joint procedures, and today’s exercise was an opportunity for them to exercise and validate them,” said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.
“There are also lessons to be learnt, which they will take back and improve.”
Mr Teo called on Singaporeans to take the terror threat seriously and to stay alert, as the first few minutes of a terror situation are crucial.
“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,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, joint patrols between police and the SAF's Island Defence Task Force which protects key installations here, were stepped up at over 360 locations such as the financial centre, public transport nodes, shopping malls, residential areas and immigration checkpoints - after receiving intelligence about an imminent attack.
There are two reasons for the exercise, said the police.
One is to test the combined response between the Home Team and SAF to a terror attack. The other is to raise public awareness of "the current threat landscape and to encourage continued vigilance".
Deputy Commissioner of Police Lau Peet Meng said the exercise has given officers greater confidence in dealing with simultaneous terrorist 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,” he said.
“With the conclusion of this exercise, we are now better prepared to deal with such a contingency together.”
Over 50 community volunteers also took part in the operation, which began at 10am on Monday and ended at 4am on Tuesday.
The exercise comes as Singapore's ramps up its readiness in tackling terror attacks.
On Sept 24, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched SGSecure, a nationwide movement which aims to increase the public's preparedness and resilience.
Last Saturday, DPM Teo launched an SMS alert system, which will notify people if there is a major emergency, such as a fire or a terror attack, nearby.
The police in June also launched its Emergency Response Teams, which comprise police land division officers, trained in counter-assault skills. They took part in Monday's exercise.
These developments are a response to the growing terror threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and self-radicalised lone wolves to Singapore and the region, which is at its highest level in recent times.
Last week, Malaysian police announced that they arrested 16 terror suspects following a two-week operation that spanned six states.
The country faced its first ISIS attack in June when two men threw a grenade into a nightspot in Puchong, Selangor, injuring eight people.
In January, there was also an attack aimed at a popular mall in the Indonesian capital. Eight people died, including four terrorists.
Closer to home, Indonesia arrested five members of a terror cell in Batam two months ago. The cell's leader had been planning a rocket attack on Marina Bay.
Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said large-scale exercises such as Monday's are critical in testing the readiness and coordination of various agencies which need to work together in a terror attack.
He highlighted how it has also been set up to replicate the more common terror scenarios seen today, in which small groups of terrorists hit public places at the same time, such as in the Paris attacks last November.
He said: "With ISIS, the attack methodology has changed. Such exercises seek to emulate these attacks ."