Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Singapore considers itself ‘prime target’ for militants

ON HIGH ALERT:The country’s army undertook its biggest mobilization exercise in three decades last month and 1.3 million citizens have downloaded a terrorism-prevention app

Reuters, SINGAPORE

Armed officers patrol a train station where television screens and giant posters warn of the threat from militants. Nearby, fake gunmen storm a shopping mall in one of many recent terror attack simulations.

However, this is not some war-ravaged country. It is one of the safest in the world, Singapore.

The wealthy city-state has a near-perfect record of keeping its shores free from terrorism, but as it prepares to host defense ministers from around Southeast Asia this week, it appears to have good reason to have prioritized stopping the spread of militancy in the region.

The cosmopolitan financial hub, which was second only to Tokyo in last year’s Economist Intelligence Unit Safe Cities Index, has said that it has been the target of militant plots for years — some stemming from its Muslim-majority neighbors — and that it is a matter of “when” and not “if” militants will strike.

“Singapore continues to face a serious security threat from both homegrown radicalized individuals and foreign terrorists, who continue to see Singapore as a prized target,” the Singaporean Ministry of Home Affairs said in response to e-mailed questions.

Singaporean authorities said that they have been a target of Islamic extremism since the 1990s, but efforts to deter terrorism have been stepped up over the past few years, which have seen more frequent attacks on Western countries, and after Islamic State (IS) group-affiliated militants took over Marawi City in the Philippines last year.

Raising further concerns about the threat to the country, a Singaporean soldier has featured on a number of IS promotional videos, most recently in December, when he was filmed executing men alongside other militants.

In its inaugural Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released last year, the ministry said IS has demonstrated that Singapore is “very much on its radar” and that the threat to the country remains “the highest in recent years” — claims that are backed up by security experts.

“Singapore being known as safe and secure makes it such a risk target,” said Dan Bould, Asia director of crisis management at professional services firm Aon and a former captain in the British army.

Three in four Singaporeans believe that it is only a matter of time before the country experiences a terror attack, a poll by local newspaper the Sunday Times showed last year.

Singaporean authorities certainly do not want their citizens to be complacent. Everyone, including school children, is encouraged to download a mobile app that alerts them to emergency situations and allows them to send in videos and photos of suspicious events.

The ministry said that as of the end of last year, more than 1.3 million devices were equipped with the SGSecure app — a large chunk of the population of around 5.6 million.

Simulations of terror attacks — including one just more than a week ago, in which masked gunman stormed a children’s activity center on the resort island of Sentosa — are regular.

Last month, the Singapore Armed Forces undertook their biggest mobilization exercise in more than three decades, including an interagency response to a simulated gunman at the national stadium.

Authorities last year said that there was reliable information that IS militants were considering carrying out an attack in Singapore in the first half of 2016, a threat which they said was countered.

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