Terror threat to Singapore at highest level in recent years

Republic was specifically targeted last year; events in Marawi a cause for concern: MHA

Security personnel patrolling at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
Security personnel patrolling at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The rising tide of extremism worldwide has not left Singapore untouched, and it faces its highest terror threat level in recent years, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday.

"Singapore was specifically targeted in the past year, and the regional threat has heightened," the MHA said in its first Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report.

In October last year, an Arabic online publication titled The Fall Of The Idol: External Action And Individual Jihad singled out two entities here as potential targets - part of a wider bid to bring down United States and Western interests.

The Straits Times understands that the targets were the Singapore Exchange and a port.

MHA said security measures have been ramped up in the areas.

Saying that security agencies remain on high vigilance, it added: "The public should continue to stay alert and be prepared."

The report said that the worsening threat in the region arose mainly from terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its affiliates.

In the Philippines, a group calling itself "IS East Asia" overran Marawi City in Mindanao late last month.

While Philippine forces have moved to retake the city, the MHA said the siege of Marawi attests to the group's potential to turn parts of Mindanao into an "ISIS wilayat", or province for militants in the region. "Should this entity proliferate into a regional network, like the Jemaah Islamiah had done previously, the terrorism threat will deepen further in South- east Asia," it said.

At home, the threat remains very serious, the ministry added.

"Singapore is a key target. We have taken part in international coalitions against terrorism, and we represent many things that are anathema to ISIS," said the report.

Singapore is a secular democracy and host to economic and commercial interests from Western nations that ISIS considers "infidels", it added.

There have already been two ISIS plots to attack the country that the authorities have been aware of.

In the first half of last year, there was "reliable information" that foreign ISIS militants were considering carrying out an attack, and the authorities moved to mitigate the threat, said the MHA.

And last August, the Indonesian authorities foiled a plot by terrorists in Batam who planned to launch a rocket attack on Marina Bay.

Singapore also faces the risk of an attack by those influenced by ISIS propaganda.

Between 2007 and 2014, 11 radicalised Singaporeans were dealt with under the Internal Security Act. But the numbers have been growing, and since 2015, the Act has been used against 14 radicalised Singaporeans.

ISIS propaganda has also radicalised foreigners here - including some 40 Bangladeshi nationals since late 2015, and eight Indonesian domestic helpers since 2015.

The report called these radicalised individuals "a grave security concern". Any attacks they carry out can be hard to prevent and happen without warning - as everyday items like cars and knives are used.

A strong community response is critical in detecting and reporting radicalised individuals, MHA said.

It noted that in some cases that it detected, friends and family members had withheld information from the authorities because they refused to acknowledge the problem, or believed they were protecting their loved ones.

"The opposite is true," it added.

"The amorphous nature of the enemy we face today means that even though our security agencies will do what it takes to detect and prevent terrorist attacks, they cannot do so alone."

At stake are not just property and lives, but Singapore's identity as a multiracial, multi-religious society, MHA said, calling on people to play their part in keeping Singapore safe.




A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2017, with the headline 'Terror threat to S'pore at highest level in recent years'. Subscribe