ERP, road cameras to fight terrorism
Parliament sat for the third day yesterday, when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat gave his closing speech for Budget 2016. MPs also spoke on issues affecting the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Committee of Supply debate
The threat of a terrorist attack on Singapore is "not exaggerated", in light of the attacks on Paris, Jakarta and Brussels in the span of five months, said Minister of Home Affairs K. Shanmugam.
The militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses a far graver threat than Al-Qaeda and returning foreign fighters such as those from Katibah Nusantara - a Malaysian-Indonesian unit of ISIS who posted videos aimed at the Malay population - are also a serious threat.
"They are battle-hardened, with combat skills, violent tendencies, extremist ideology, and completely intent on perpetuating violence," said Mr Shanmugam.
He was responding to Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh's question about the extent of the terrorist threat in Singapore.
Holland-Bukit Timah MP Christopher De Souza, who is the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs, asked how the Ministry would meet the challenges of terrorism.
Mr Singh also asked how the Home Team assesses if an individual had been radicalised.
To address this, Mr Shamugam said Singapore draws a clear line on support for terrorist groups like ISIS.
For example, the Ministry has taken action against those who sold ISIS flags, propagated ISIS ideology as well as those who intend to fight in conflict zones.
He said Singapore has a different counter-terrorism approach compared to other countries.
In 1993, terrorist leader Masood Azhar, now wanted by Indian authorities, preached in mosques in Britain, where he shared his extremist views.
Singapore would not have allowed such a person here and he would have been detained and deported if he shared such views, said Mr Shanmugam.
Of the 27 Bangladeshi men who were deported after they were found in Singapore with materials on terrorist propaganda, 13 were put on surveillance while the rest were detained.
But Mr Shanmugam said that if the 27 men were Singaporean, they would be detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) if they are likely to pose a serious and imminent threat.
If they have extremist ideas but are "quite far" from carrying out a threat, they would be put on restraining orders, he said.
The four Indonesians who were deported after trying to travel from Singapore to the Middle East to join ISIS in Syria have been released by Indonesian authorities.
"In Singapore, they would have been subjected to the ISA, no question," said Mr Shanmugam.
To detect and respond to terrorist threats, the Home Team will expand its use of intelligence and investigation tools such as public transport video cameras and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system.
Mr Shanmugam noted that "changed circumstances" meant the ministry had to use some of this data although it had previously decided not to.
Mr Singh asked how this data would be used, while Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun questioned if there would be safeguards against possible abuse.
In response, Mr Shanmugam said the data would be used for investigations after an incident, and analysis and prediction before an incident.
He acknowledged the possibility of abuse of the data and said these individuals who did so will be dealt with by the law.
"But this does not lead to the conclusion that because there is a possibility of abuse, we won't use the data...
"Then we would be opening ourselves for an attack, and post-attack, we wouldn't be able to investigate," he said.