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The threat of a terrorist attack in Singapore has been at its "highest level" of late as a result of the rise of the Islamic State (Isis) militant group, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam warned on Friday.
He described the danger as being even greater than in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in New York and the arrest of Jemaah Islamiyah members here that year, and added that it was not a question of if, but when, an attack will take place here.
Speaking to Home Team officers at an annual closed-door forum, he outlined a number of new initiatives by the government to counter the terrorism threat, including the launch of a new national movement called SG Secure.
Singapore has always taken the growing terror threat very seriously over the years, with efforts such as tougher gun controls and upgraded border security in place. The government has also worked closely with religious and community groups in the country to counter extremist ideology and inoculate society from radical extremism.
But while these moves have so far been effective, Mr Shanmugam stressed that the rise of Isis has meant that the threat has "increased significantly" to the point that it has morphed into a "large powerful monster". "It is now a qualitatively different (and) much more dangerous threat. Isis presents a far graver threat than (Al-Qaeda) or its affiliated entities ever did," he told his audience of 300 Home Team leaders and senior officers.
There were at least 56 attacks last year directed or inspired by Isis outside Syria and Iraq; this year alone, there have been seven serious terror incidents. Mr Shanmugam spoke of Isis's intention to establish a caliphate in the region, encompassing Singapore.
As he mapped out a grim picture of the terror situation in South-east Asia, he described Singapore as a "prime target", with four possible types of threats facing the Republic: There could be attacks planned just outside Singapore, attacks involving weapons smuggled by Singaporeans or foreign militants, so-called "lone wolf" attacks by self-radicalised people, as well as those by foreign workers in Singapore who have become radicalised.
Mr Shanmugam said the government will beef up its response by stepping up security measures for key infrastructure facilities such as Changi Airport and government buildings, and softer targets such as sports facilities and shopping malls.
There will be a sizeable expansion of CCTV coverage here, with the plan being to complete the installation of police cameras in 10,000 HDB blocks and multi-storey car parks this year alone. The authorities will also progressively install cameras in common areas in the heartlands, including hawker centres and walkways. Mr Shanmugam disclosed that there will be new legislation and rules to require building owners and organisers of major events to have necessary security measures such as CCTV systems and people-screening facilities.
As for the Home Team itself, the minister described it as crucial for security officers to arrive quickly on the scene of a terror attack and to be able to take down the perpetrators.
He announced that new emergency response teams would be formed to respond fast, engage the attackers and minimise casualties. More police officers will undergo special training to carry out this new role and they will be equipped with more potent weapons.
Apart from the hard measures, the minister made the point that the community at large also had a big role to play to deal with terrorism effectively.
The new SG Secure programme, to be rolled out later this year, is a "national strategy" and a rallying call for citizens from all walks of life to unite.
While it is meant to sensitise, organise, train and exercise Singaporeans, it needs to be more than just a public-awareness campaign, he said. "This large-scale effort can only succeed if everyone participates. It will take time and resources from all in society. But it has to be done, to keep Singapore safe and secure," he added. "If we can recover well from an attack, we will emerge stronger, more united and more determined as one Singapore."