Indonesian police on Friday arrested six suspected militants over an Islamic State-linked plot to fire a rocket at an upmarket Singapore waterfront district from a nearby island.
Singapore stepped up security after the elite anti-terror unit detained the men, aged between 19 and 46, on the Indonesian island of Batam, which lies just south of the affluent city-state.
The alleged leader of the group is accused of planning the attack with a leading Indonesian militant, who is now believed to be fighting with the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.
It was the latest terror plot in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, where there has been a surge in attacks and attempted attacks this year due to the growing influence of the IS.
The pair “planned a terror attack in Singapore. They wanted to attack Singapore with a rocket from Batam,” national police spokesman Agus Rianto told reporters.
Police said the target was Marina Bay, a district that is home to Marina Bay Sands, a luxury complex that includes shopping malls, hotels and a casino.
Rianto added police had “preliminary data” and were still investigating the plot.
Analysts said it was unclear whether the militants had the ability to carry out such a plan, which would involve firing a rocket over a distance of about 20km.
Singapore, which is home to the Asian headquarters of numerous global companies, said it was stepping up security inland and at its borders after the plot was uncovered.
“This does not come as a surprise,” Singaporean Minister of Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said. “I have spoken several times about plans being made in places just outside Singapore, to target Singapore. Our small size increases these risks... Our people have to be extra alert.”
Singapore yesterday called for heightened vigilance.
“This shows how our enemies are thinking of different ways of attacking us,” Shanmugam said in a Facebook post.
“Terrorists ... will seek to come in through our checkpoints; they will also try to launch attacks from just outside. And this is in addition to lone wolf attacks from radicalized individuals/groups. We have to be extra vigilant,” he wrote.
Batam is linked to Singapore by frequent ferries and its beach resorts and golf courses are a popular weekend getaway destination for Singaporeans, who are preparing to celebrate their National Day holiday on Tuesday.
Authorities identified the leader of the group arrested on Batam as Gigih Rahmat Dewa, who local media said was a 31-year-old factory worker from the Javanese city of Solo. Solo has been linked to several previous attacks by militants in Indonesia.
The group was suspected of having direct links to Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian who had lived in Solo, but is now believed to be fighting with the IS in Syria.
“The six people led by GRD had planned to launch attacks,” National Police Chief Tito Karnavian told reporters, refering to Dewa by his initials.
“They were in direct contact with Bahrun Naim in Syria and he had ordered them to attack Singapore and Batam,” Karnavian added.
Indonesian investigators believe that Naim was one of the masterminds behind an attack in January in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in which eight people were killed, including the four attackers.
In a blog post after the coordinated shootings and suicide bombings across Paris in November last year, Naim urged his Indonesian audience to study the planning, targeting, timing and courage of the militants who killed 130 people in the French capital.
Police said they had not yet discovered any physical evidence of preparations for a rocket attack.
“We are currently studying what materials they had and I cannot say that a rocket was found,” Batam District Police Chief Helmi Santika said. “Among other things, several weapons were seized including arrows, long-rang firearms and pistols.”
Police are expected to provide an update to their investigation tomorrow.
Multi-ethnic Singapore, a major commercial, banking and travel hub which is home to many Western expatriates, has never seen a successful attack by militants.
However, authorities did break up a plot to bomb several embassies soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US and a Singaporean militant was accused of plotting to crash a hijacked plane into the city’s airport in 2002.
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