We must be ready, says PM Lee Hsien Loong after first counter-terrorism exercise at Changi Airport

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"Attackers" storm Changi Airport, firing indiscriminately and setting off bombs, in Exercise Northstar. The 10th edition tests the response of key agencies, including the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, in the event of a terror attack.
A police specialist officer securing the area after the threat is neutralised at the departure hall of Terminal 3 during the drill in the wee hours of Oct 17, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A "suicide bomber" detonates himself at the departure hall of Terminal 3 during the drill in the wee hours of Oct 17, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Should a terror attack happen at Changi Airport, responders must be able to react in a way that will minimise casualties and neutralise the threat decisively, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Lee had observed an hour-long counter-terrorism drill early on Tuesday (Oct 17) morning, which saw the police, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and other civilian agencies respond to armed gunmen and a suicide bomber in Changi Airport Terminal 3.

Speaking to reporters after the exercise, he said an attack on a high-profile target like Changi Airport was "completely plausible".

"If it does happen we must be quite sure that our responders are ready for it. We know what to do, we know how to work together, we know who to go where," he said.

The various agencies will need to cooperate closely and have ample practice to get responders to that level of readiness, he added.

The 10th edition of Exercise Northstar at T3 involved more than 650 personnel from security agencies and others including Changi Airport Group, SMRT and the Ministry of Health. It was the first large-scale counter-terrorism drill held at the airport.

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Phase two of the exercise will take place on Oct 28 at the Home Team Tactical Centre, and involve a different scenario.

Tuesday's simulated attack saw six gunmen and a suicide bomber strike the packed terminal on what was supposed to be a busy Saturday afternoon.

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Two gunmen began firing at commuters at Changi Airport MRT station. That initial strike was followed by a suicide bomber detonating an explosive vest in the T3 Departure Hall, and four more gunmen storming the terminal.

Security forces responded swiftly, first with police officers from the Public Transport Security Command (TransCom). Crack troops from the Airport Strike Force and Rapid Deployment Troops from the Special Operations Command arrived later.

The gunmen were later neutralised inside the transit area of T3, while combat engineers from the SAF's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosives Defence Group later disarmed an improvised explosive device.

SCDF personnel rescued casualties and carried them to a first aid point outside the terminal, where they were given emergency help by personnel from the Ministry of Health.

In a statement, the police said the exercise allowed it to test the response and coordination between different agencies and groups.

Mr Lee said an exercise like Northstar enables first responders "to come together, practise what they need to do and also give us a good sense of where weaknesses in our preparations may be and what we have to do".

Security agencies will study which areas can be improved, he added.

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The airport scenario is very realistic, he said, noting that terrorists have struck at more than one airport around the world.

Busy airports are targeted by terrorist groups, as attacks could potentially inflict serious casualties and cripple transport infrastructure. Just last year, airports in Brussels and Istanbul were targeted.

Mrs Lee and several Cabinet ministers also observed the exercise, including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, and Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng.

Assistant Commissioner How Kwang Hwee, the police director of operations, said different agencies working well together in a crisis is the key to ensuring "an effective response to any attack".

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