Wake-up call on terror threat

The disclosure on Wednesday that the Internal Security Department had arrested 27 Bangladeshi men here is the latest and most direct reminder that Singaporeans and the country are not immune to the current wave of terrorism.

That the men were not planning attacks here is no cause for comfort. The fact is that they were based, gathered material and did their planning here. That is significant and worrying even if their goal was to take up arms back home against their government, and in the Middle East with groups like ISIS.

Consider that they also shared radical videos and material, including a guide on killing a target silently using different methods and weapons - chilling images of which were also revealed this week - and planned to get others to join their cause.

Were their activities not foiled, there is a real possibility they might have attacked fellow countrymen who opposed them, or members of the public who may have chanced upon their activities.

It is also no coincidence that a day before the arrests were made public, Home Affairs MinisterK. Shanmugam warned that developments in the region and beyond were creating ripples here, and made Singapore susceptible to an attack.

There are some Singaporeans who felt uncomfortable that he touched on the worrying prospect of a section of younger Muslims growing more distant from the rest of Singapore society.

But they would do well to recognise his equally important remarks against Islamophobia and intolerance towards Muslims, and his warning that if people behave with suspicion and negativity towards fellow citizens, society will be torn apart.

Mr Shanmugam's observations are necessary, and timely, given that security threats will grow in the next few years. Which is why the authorities and community need to do more and step up vigilance.

Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that security concerns do not end up dividing Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious society. If that were to happen, then the extremists would have won.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Wake-up call on terror threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe