Terrorists marked two Singapore spots as targets last year

Two places in Singapore were marked by terrorists as potential targets last year, signalling a significant increase in the terror threat here, analysts said.

In its inaugural Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said an Arabic publication circulated last October, titled The Fall Of The Idol: External Action And Individual Jihad, had identified two entities here as targets as part of a wider bid to damage American and Western interests.

The Straits Times understands that the entities are the Singapore Exchange and a port.

Dr Kumar Ramakrishna, head of policy studies and coordinator of the national security studies programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the fact that the targets were singled out showed a “ramp-up” in the threat level.

“Previously, Singapore would usually be mentioned generally as a target, but this suggests that (the terrorists) are going a step further,” he said, adding that the public should be concerned that the country was being “seriously considered” as a target.

In its report, MHA called the terrorism threat facing Singapore “very serious”.

The ministry revealed that in the first half of last year, there was “reliable information” that foreign Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants were considering carrying out an attack here.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had alluded to this plot in his National Day Rally speech last year.

“The Singapore authorities acted swiftly but discreetly to mitigate the threat,” said MHA.

The plot was one of two ISIS-linked plots that the authorities were aware of, MHA said in its report.

The other was a foiled plot by Batam-based militants who were planning to launch a rocket targeted at the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort from the island.

Singapore has also been cited repeatedly as a target in militant publications and videos, MHA said yesterday. An ISIS publication released in September 2015 named Singapore as one of the countries in the “crusader coalition” that the terror group was battling.

An ISIS video in May last year singled out Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines as countries infiltrated by “disbelievers”, and threatened action against them.

Security agencies in Singapore remain in a state of “high vigilance”.

Analysts said one of the reasons that the terror threat here remains high is that Singapore exists in a region with countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where terrorism has taken root.

The report pointed out that over the next two years, about 200 terrorists would be released from prisons in the region and could return to terrorism if they were not rehabilitated.

“It is important for governments to track them and see what activities they engage in,” said Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, adding that these individuals could infect others with their ideas.

Dr Gunaratna added that while the Government has dealt with the problem effectively, with tools such as the Internal Security Act to preventively detain suspected terrorists, more could be done.

He suggested tightening requirements under the Public Order Act, which requires organisers of public events that draw crowds of more than 5,000 to put in place security measures.

“Even if there are only 1,000 people, given the vulnerability of events, the Government will have to act,” said Dr Gunaratna.

Dr Kumar added that the public can no longer assume a terror attack will not happen.

“The bottom line is – nobody needs to be alarmed, but people need to be more alert and pay attention to what is happening in the region,” he said.

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