JAYA PRAKASH's picture
Terror spooks Singapore
Posted on Oct 03, 2017

"The terrorist threat to Singapore is at the highest since the JI [Jemaah Islamiyah: an Asian off-shoot of Al-Qaeda] group was dismantled in 2001. To complement our efforts to prepare Singaporeans, we need to also prepare our businesses as well,” said Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean to a guild of business officials on 26 September.

He added that the country needs to strengthen its preparedness at workplaces, something that has been largely overlooked. Though a welcome move in itself, Teo did not identify areas of the nation’s security infrastructure that needed working on, and what kind of preparedness the government was planning to undertake.

But as matters stand, the city-state has never been the same since the 2001 terror attacks in the United States of September 11th. In almost every facet of life in Singapore, security consciousness has never loomed larger than now.

As a close ally of the US, with scores upon scores of American businesses on its soil, and also a US naval base, there is every reason for Singapore to watch, hawk-like, the movements in its neighbourhood and preempt the kind of attacks that the U.S. suffered in 2001.

In 16 years since the Sept 11th attacks, Singapore, has made numerous arrests of terrorists and suspected terrorists. Its most notable was the headline-grabbing arrest of Mas Selamat Kestari who, it was believed, was planning copy-cat attacks on Singapore similar to what happened to New York and Washington.

The scale of preparedness that Singapore is working towards is worth noting. Though faced with the same problems of self-radicalization as seen in other nations, Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) has ceremoniously led the charge in nipping the security menace in the bud and incarcerating malcontents without trial.

Even as threat levels have not raised to what is seen in Western Europe, the sight of uniformed policemen patrolling train stations, making random security checks, and the routine mobilization of military reservists, plus the fact that an army unit is on continual stand-by at anytime of the year, is and has become a quotidian feature of life in the city-state.

Singapore’s reservist numbers stands at close to a million out of a population of 5.7 million. Yet the figure excludes police and other para-security forces.

While those numbers may be awe-inspiring, security education has hardly if ever creased the nation’s corporate domain.

In the minister’s words, ‘the public service will take the lead to train public officers on emergency preparedness, such as first aid and the use of automated external defibrillators’ – an initiative that has rarely been attempted in any of Singapore’s neighbours.

Singapore last year rolled out SGSecure, a nation-wide security preparedness initiative aimed at exacting a counterpoise in the event of a terror attack that could conceivably be considered as being harmful. Under the programme, bands of police officers visit and patrol, instructing the populace on how to dodge and combat terrorists and react in real-life situations - moves considered by some to be more reactionary than preemptive.

SGSecure soon became didactic enough to be expanded into the corporate domain, and the thrust of the new initiative could have arisen from either the need to protect the business sector or based on lessons learned from the experiences of Morgan Stanley during the September 11 2001 aftermath.

Teo narrated instances of how the steadfast culture of vigilance of the US investment bank proved crucial in preempting a terror attack.

'Vigilant security officers and employees as well as effective security systems and cameras could prevent an attack since would-be attackers often check a place before striking. If employees are 'slack', your security guards are not paying attention, looking at [their cellphones] business would make for easier targets", warned the political leader under whose remit depends the safety and security of this nation.

– Jaya Prakash