Singapore yesterday conducted its first large-scale surprise security drill, staging mock bombings and a simulated chemical attack to test readiness for an extremist strike on the city-state.
Police cars with sirens wailing raced through the dark streets and a blast could be heard from within the Toa Payoh subway station as the exercise involving 2,000 personnel got underway in the pre-dawn hours.
The Singapore Civil Defense Force (SCDF) said that along with Toa Payoh, three other central subway stations -- Dhoby Ghaut, Raffles Place and Marina Bay -- were hit by near-simultaneous mock bomb blasts and a chemical attack.
The city's transit system came under threat of a real attack in 2001, officials have said, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍)in his New Year's address warned the nation to brace for a possible "terrorist attack" which would threaten economic growth in Southeast Asia's most developed country.
"We will do our best to prevent any such terrorist attack in Singapore but should it ever happen and it could, then this is how we should react," Lee told reporters at the Dhoby Ghaut station at the conclusion of the drill.
"This is how we go about our lives, this is how we respond to the emergency and how we put things back to normal again," Lee said.
Officials had kept secret the precise timing of the three-hour exercise, codenamed Northstar V.
SCDF, which operates the city's emergency ambulance and fire services, said the scenario for the drill was similar to the July 7 attacks on London's subway system and a bus, in which 52 commuters and four apparent suicide bombers died.
"Help" the would-be victims screamed from inside a smoking train at Toa Payoh station after the simulated bombing.
Officials used mannequins as well as live "victims" stained with fake blood. Some collapsed on the platform while others were wounded inside the train, their "severed" limbs lying nearby.
SCDF personnel removed the victims on stretchers.
At the bus interchange outside, rifle-toting police guarded the scene after a double-decker bus was hit by a mock bomb that left 42 people "wounded" and fake blood and debris strewn about the roadway as rain fell.
"During the exercise which involved over 2,000 personnel, thunderflashes, smoke and fire simulators were used," an SCDF statement said.
It said some 500 "live" victims and mannequins were deployed, and around 3,000 commuters evacuated.
"We tried to simulate as close as possible," one SCDF official said. "We are playing real-time."
Local radio reported that "grieving" relatives arrived in tears at a victim assistance center.
When a fake bomb went off at Dhoby Ghaut station, commuters escorted by SCDF personnel left their train through the back door and walked through a tunnel for about 100m to escape, local radio quoted a witness as saying.
A simulated chemical attack later occurred at Dhoby Ghaut, leaving about 40 people collapsed on the platform, radio reported.
One commuter, Jess Fung, was on her way to work when one of the blasts occurred. She said civil defense officers had boarded her train to advise passengers of the exercise, so she was not afraid.
Officials have said that extremists planned to attack a bus carrying US citizens to Yishun subway station in 2001 but authorities foiled the attack by arresting 15 people including members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) network.