SINGAPORE: In light of growing terror threats within the region and beyond, churches and hotels are ramping up security measures over the Christmas period.
Security measures have been stepped up at all 33 Roman Catholic churches in Singapore, where a total of around 200,000 Catholics are expected to attend midnight mass on Christmas.
Since November, church staff and volunteers have been attending training under SGSecure, a national movement to prepare members of the public for terrorist attacks. They will also be going for the community emergency preparedness programme under the Singapore Civil Defence Force early next year.
“Each one has in their own ways come for briefing and training … supported by MHA and the police force, who have given us some advice and proper training a month ago,” said the Roman Catholic Archdiocese Singapore’s Vicar General Philip Heng.
“Each parish will then take it back to their own parish and have their own administrators and volunteers come up with a clear system that works. We are still a work-in-progress, but at the same time, while we know such processes take time, it is important to be implemented as soon as possible,” he added.
Members of the congregation who possess relevant expertise – such as retired or active police officers or medical personnel – have also been identified as first responders in the event of a crisis.
“In a worship environment of the Catholic Church, with some 200,000 people coming to worship, there is certainly a need to have such provision of security, so that the people who come can then worship in peace, without feeling the tension and the anxiety of the situation,” said Msgr Heng.
These measures are even more pertinent in light of recent terror threats. In Australia, police foiled a terror plot in Melbourne which targeted high-profile locations such as Flinders Street Station and St Paul’s Cathedral.
In Indonesia, police will deploy 150,000 security personnel over the festive period, after officials thwarted a Christmas suicide bomb plot by a group linked to Islamic State (IS) on Wednesday (Dec 21).
IS has also claimed responsibility for the attack on the Berlin Christmas market on Monday, which left 12 people dead and dozens more wounded.
Separately, German police on Friday arrested two brothers who are suspected of planning an attack on a major shopping centre.
CITIZENS STILL NEED TO REMAIN VIGILANT: EXPERT
While Singapore authorities are on heightened alert, a security analyst said it is vital for citizens to remain vigilant, especially during this festive season.
“Terror attacks have that possibility of being replicated – we have seen that globally and also (in) our regional neighbourhoods, so we cannot rule out the fact that similar attacks can take place in Singapore,” said Dr Mustafa Izzudin, a security analyst with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.
“We do have a very good framework in place which looks at what to do in the event of a security threat, to prevent it, what happens during an attack and what you do during the attack. What needs to be done is to modify and enhance it in the wake of an evolving terror threat around us.”