While the number and frequency of terrorist plots against Singapore from Islamic militant groups have nose-dived in 2018, violent threats posed to the region remain high, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) affirmed.
A 2019 Terrorist Threat Assessment report concluded that the “global terrorist and extremist threat is likely to persist in 2019 as the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group goes through a phase of re-adaptation and de-centralization,” says Rohan Gunaratna, author of the report.
Although there are no verifiable and convincing evidence yet of intelligence reports saying that terror attacks are being planned specifically against Singapore, its likelihood cannot be discounted, the Ministry emphasized. “The terrorism threat to Singapore remains high,” said MHA.
MHA noted that even though Islamic State has gone through profound territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, the dogmas campaigned online persist and continues to draw in supporters within Singapore.
Singaporeans “complacency”: A challenge to government
A survey conducted by the Ministry found that nearly 60% of respondents recognized that Singapore is a target of terror attacks, yet only 20% felt that a threat was imminent or that an attack might occur in Singapore within the next five years.
The survey, which was conducted through a series of face-to-face interviews, involved 2,010 Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 15 years and above, and was representative of the national population.
Although authorities have established measures to augment Singapore’s counter-terrorism abilities, MHA said that it is imperative for Singaporeans not to become complacent.
In March of last year, the government disclosed the SG Secure programme, a community-centered response plan targeting to enhance Singapore’s ability to respond to potential terror attacks by groups like the Islamic State.
One element of the programme is the “Run, Hide, Tell” initiative. This encourages people not to panic when confronted with a terror threat, run away from the attackers if possible, hide from them if it is not, and above all, remember to call the police.
The challenge of “jolting” Singaporeans out of complacency is a strong necessity, of course without hurling them to a position of fear at the other extreme or for people to resort to vigilantism and take matters into their own hands.
According to the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, most people living in Singapore are probably not aware of how to prepare themselves — mentally and physically — for such challenges. The public needs training on how to run, where to hide, and how to stay safe and secure enough to actually find the opportunity to inform the authorities about what is happening.
The Home Team’s anti-terror drills in neighborhoods are a promising start, and the police have also begun deploying community engagement where officers talk to residents about SG Secure’s key messages.
Initiating these types of training, however, should not be the sole responsibility of the government. The private sector and other organizations must contribute in preparing Singaporeans to deal with terror attacks.
in the meantime, the need for heightened vigilance within Singaporean communities must remain high.