March 19, 2016
SINGAPORE — Cautioning that Singapore is a prime terrorism target for all, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said there are “at least” four possible types of threats the Republic is facing.
Speaking at the Home Team Leaders’ Forum yesterday, the minister said the threat of a terror attack on Singapore soil is at its highest level in recent times because of what the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) wants to do, the situation in countries in the region and developments within Singapore.
Attacks that are planned just outside of the country and executed here, much like the one in Paris last November, is one. The Paris attacks were planned in Molenbeek in Belgium and “we have several possible Molenbeeks around us”, said Mr Shanmugam.
A second possible threat, he said, comes from attacks involving weapons smuggled in from just outside Singapore, for use by Singaporeans.
He noted that each year, 200 million people pass through the various checkpoints, including 145 million who pass though the two land checkpoints. That is why checks at these gateways have to be very stringent and “you can’t trade security for convenience”, although this is a difficult point to bring across to the public, said Mr Shanmugam.
The third possible threat — one that is a “higher possibility” — is lone-wolf attacks by self-radicalised persons, given that security at Singapore’s checkpoints is tight, he said.
Around the world, there has been a noticeable rise in lone-wolf attacks, he said. Following a call for such attacks by ISIS spokesman Adnani in September 2014, who told followers to carry out attacks in any way, there were six recorded attacks that year. Last year, 11 more attacks took place and the number is “quite alarming” if foiled attacks are taken into account, said Mr Shanmugam.
He added: “Adnani told followers, ‘If you cannot find an (improvised explosive device) or guns, then smash people’s heads with a rock, slaughter them with a knife, run them down with a car, throw them down from a high place, choke them’. Security checks at Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints are not going to prevent these. This is serious.”
With the nature of attacks becoming “simpler”, with people beginning to use easily accessible items such as knives and machetes, Mr Shanmugam said: “This is a nightmare for every security agency, including the Home Team.”
There have been a “small number” of self-radicalised individuals here, with the five arrested under the Internal Security Act last year all radicalised by the rhetoric they read online and wanting to engage in armed violence for ISIS. The Government is concerned by the influence of radical material on young people, who may easily succumb to the “seductive attractiveness of ISIS’ messages”, he said.
The fourth threat is foreign workers in Singapore who get radicalised, as seen from the arrests and deportation of 27 Bangladeshis announced this year.
“It is no longer a question of whether an attack will take place, but really, when is an attack going to take place in Singapore and we have to be prepared for that ... The critical task for the Ministry of Home Affairs is really to deal with this in the coming years,” Mr Shanmugam said.