Terror threat to S'pore remains high, but only one in five sees it as an imminent threat: MHA report

Singapore Police Force's In-situ Reaction Teams from the Protective Security Command patrolling at the Ngee Ann City shopping complex on Orchard Road on Dec 15, 2017.
Singapore Police Force's In-situ Reaction Teams from the Protective Security Command patrolling at the Ngee Ann City shopping complex on Orchard Road on Dec 15, 2017.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The terrorism threat to Singapore remains high as more radicalised individuals here are uncovered and terror groups make waves globally, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

In the second edition of its Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released on Tuesday (Jan 22), the ministry said security agencies have continued to maintain high vigilance even though there has been no credible or specific intelligence of an attack being planned against Singapore since its first report in 2017.

"Among others, we continue to detect Singaporeans, and foreigners working in Singapore becoming radicalised by terrorist propaganda. The public must continue to stay alert, and be prepared that an attack might one day succeed," said the MHA.

But a survey of around 2,000 Singaporeans conducted in June and July last year found that only one in five feels that the terrorism threat is imminent, with an attack occurring here within the next five years.

Alluding to the survey findings released too on Tuesday, the MHA said "it is important for Singaporeans to not become complacent".

The Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report is aimed at alerting Singaporeans to the security environment here and regionally.

In the first report released in June 2017, the MHA had said then that the threat to Singapore "remained highest in recent years", pointing out that the country was specifically targeted in the preceding year and that the regional threat had heightened.

It also cited the worsening threat in the region arising mainly from terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its affiliates.

In this year's report, the ministry said the most pressing threat facing Singapore continues to emanate from ISIS.

Although the group has suffered heavy territorial losses, directed fewer attacks and lost several of its prominent Syria-based regional militants, ISIS continues to persist online and attracts supporters here and overseas, said MHA.

It added that some 20,000 to 30,000 fighters remain in Syria and Iraq, and ISIS' leadership and organisation have remained cohesive. ISIS continues to produce propaganda and spread the group's violent ideology online and via communication apps like Telegram.

The ministry said in its propaganda, ISIS has started to specifically designate its "East Asia" division, which includes the South-east Asia region, as the Wilayat Sharq Asiyya, or East Asia Province.

"The reference to an ISIS wilayat in this region also significantly raises the terrorism threat to Singapore, as it would be a rallying call for its supporters in the region, including within Singapore," said the ministry.

MHA warned that other terror groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda (AQ), which were active in the past, are regrouping.

Citing recent reports, it said AQ is reviving its global networks and issuing more propaganda, and that JI members have been joining pro-AQ groups in Syria to gain combat skills and experience.

"In South-east Asia, there is the possibility that JI, which is aligned with AQ, may resume planning attacks," added the ministry.

The ministry revealed that eight self-radicalised individuals were dealt with under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in the past two years, bringing the total number since 2015 to 22.

In contrast, between 2007 and 2014, 11 radicalised Singaporeans under the ISA.

MHA also gave an update on Megat Shahdan Abdul Samad, the Singaporean who had gone to work in the Middle East in 2014, where he was radicalised. The ministry said it is believed he has been killed.

Radicalisation among foreign workers here continues to persist too.

Since 2015, 14 Indonesian domestic workers have been repatriated after they were found to have been radicalised.

 
 

And last year, three Malaysian Work Permit holders were arrested and repatriated for their suspected involvement in terrorism-related activities.

Said MHA: "None of the foreigners investigated had any plans to mount attacks in Singapore."

But a lack of evidence of an attack being planned here is not making the authorities complacent, as security agencies remain on high alert.

"The violent and radical ideology of terrorist groups like ISIS, AQ and JI, has proven to be highly resilient and adaptable. The renewed threat posed by AQ and JI are testament to the resilience of their ideology," said MHA.

The public has a role to play in the fight against terrorism, said the ministry as it highlighted the important role SGSecure plays.

It added that through the national terrorism awareness movement, most Singaporeans are now more vigilant to suspicious objects and behaviours, and know what to do when they spot potential threats.

The ministry also underscored the importance of early reporting of potential radicalised cases, as it would allow officers to take action early action.

"Early reporting allows the authorities to investigate and intervene early to stem the radicalisation, before the individual harms or kills someone. In addition, reporting to the authorities can save these individuals from themselves," said MHA.

"Once they commit an act of violence, they will face much more severe penalties, and may even be liable for capital punishment for serious offences."