Singapore

Threat of terror attacks looms this festive season

Shanmugam asks S'pore to remain vigilant as radical ISIS beliefs take root in South-east Asia

As you unwind this festive season, do keep your guard up for the threat of terror attacks.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday that this threat in the region is stronger than that of last year because the extremist beliefs of terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken root in South-east Asia.

Though ISIS was wounded by military setbacks in the Middle East, pockets of people closer to home are receptive to such ideas, he added.

Mr Shanmugam pointed to a series of actions that could indicate a looming threat. Towards the end of last year, Indonesia detected clear signals of an attack and arrested several individuals. Still, Jakarta was struck by bombs in January, killing eight.

A similar uptick in terrorism-related arrests is now taking place in Indonesia, he noted, adding that Singapore agencies are working closely with their Indonesian counterparts.

He noted that some of those picked up were protesting against the Jakarta governor but planned to use the event for terror purposes.

He was speaking of the possibility of a terror attack here at a luncheon yesterday, organised by the Foreign Correspondents Association here.

The threat comes from three groups - those who return from fighting in Iraq and Syria "battle-hardened", those freed from detention but who still harbour radical inclinations, and those radicalised online by ISIS propaganda.

He noted that ISIS has called on its supporters to carry out attacks at home if they are unable to travel to Iraq and Syria.

The number of attacks by individuals using everyday items such as knives and vehicles to kill went up significantly after that.

While security agencies are on high alert, getting Singaporeans to be vigilant is an uphill task, said Mr Shanmugam.

"From the perspective of the people, everyone is winding down for Christmas.

"It is safe to say that trying to get our population to understand and realise what we are up against is very much a work in progress that has got a long way to go," he said.

The situation is not a surprise, he said, as Singaporeans have grown accustomed to living in a safe country, and so they take security as a given.

But it prompted the Government to launch SGSecure in September, a nationwide movement to increase people's preparedness and resilience in a crisis, such as a terror attack.

Asked if he thought Singaporeans would stay united after a terror attack here, Mr Shanmugam said he believed Singaporeans would rally together.

But he cautioned that if the attacks are repeated time and again over a sustained period of time, differences in society may develop like they have in countries such as France and the United States.

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