Published: 27 January 2016
Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in light of the 14 January 2016 bombing in Jakarta, what is being done to (i) step up Singapore's border security and internal security and (ii) increase the vigilance of Singaporeans, the resident population and the Home Team.
Ms Joan Pereira: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security in view of the number of terrorist incidents globally and Singapore's status as a travel hub, what new measures are put in place to ensure our domestic security while maintaining our lead as a travel destination and attraction.
1. Madam Speaker, there is a question by Ms Tin Pei Ling tomorrow on a related topic. Please allow me to take the terrorism-related questions from Mr Christopher de Souza, Ms Joan Pereira and Ms Tin Pei Ling together.
2. First, I start off with the question by Ms Tin Pei Ling. She asked about the terrorism threat assessment in ASEAN. The terrorism threat in Southeast Asia is serious and persistent. In addition to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates such as the Jemaah Islamiyah, the conflict in Syria/Iraq and the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have significantly raised the threat level.
3. ISIS has attracted many foreign fighters to its ranks. Regional authorities estimate that some 1,000 Southeast Asians may have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS. Over 70 of them may have died in the fighting, several as suicide-bombers. At the same time, several self-radicalised Southeast Asians who were unable to travel to Syria or Iraq to fight have heeded the call by ISIS to carry out terrorist attacks in their home countries in pursuit of the ISIS cause to expand its self-proclaimed 'caliphate'. The Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have collectively arrested over 100 of their citizens for ISIS-related activities and thwarted several planned attacks in their own countries. Even then, four Indonesian ISIS supporters succeeded in carrying out a terrorist attack in downtown Jakarta on 14 January this year.
4. The Southeast Asian fighters pose a serious terrorism threat when they return with battlefield experience from Syria and Iraq. A sizeable number of them have formed a dedicated group in Syria called the Katibah Nusantara lid Daulah Islamiyah or Malay Archipelago Unit for ISIS. They can be expected to use the fighting experience that they have acquired to carry out terrorist attacks in this region.
5. ISIS declared in November 2014 its intention to set up wilayat (provinces) in Indonesia and the Philippines. The establishment of an ISIS wilayat in Southeast Asia would further raise the terrorism threat to Singapore.
6. Ms Tin also asked whether there have been further reports of Singaporeans intending to join ISIS. So far, at least two Singapore citizens are known to have made their way to Syria with their families to take part in the conflict there. Last year, four Singaporeans were detained and a fifth was issued a Restriction Order, on the basis that they intended to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. One of those detained had planned to carry out terrorist attacks in Singapore on behalf of ISIS if he was unable to travel overseas. There are others who have expressed interest to go to Syria to fight and have been investigated, or are currently under investigation. Most of them were radicalised by online videos and articles, and through social media postings. This problem of self-radicalisation continues to be a concern in Singapore.
7. The global and regional terrorism situation is worrying. The recent attacks in Paris and in Jakarta involved multiple gunmen carrying explosives and heavy firearms, targeting soft targets packed with people who have little or no security protection, and with the aim of inflicting maximum casualties. Against this heightened threat environment, the Home Team has adopted a multi-pronged approach. I would like to highlight three key measures.
Strengthening our Borders
8. Singapore is a major transport hub in the region. More than half a million people pass through our checkpoints each day. Our Woodlands checkpoint is the busiest land checkpoint in the world. These present security risks. Attackers can gather and plan just outside Singapore before coming into Singapore to carry out the attack. This would be similar to the attacks on Paris, where the planning and preparation were probably carried out in Molenbeek where security was less tight. Border control is therefore our first line of defence to prevent an attack from taking place in Singapore.
9. The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority ("ICA") therefore conducts checks on travellers, vehicles, baggage and cargo at all our air, land and sea checkpoints and puts in place visible deterrent measures to detect and deny attempts to smuggle prohibited items or persons. The Police Coast Guard has also increased its patrols along our coastline and will be developing a more comprehensive set of physical barriers that will complement these coastal patrols. We will continue to assess our threat level and adjust our security measures at the borders accordingly.
10. But as Ms Pereira's question has suggested, it is a constant challenge to manage the balance between maintaining vigilance and security at our checkpoints and facilitating speedy and efficient travel, especially in the current heightened threat environment. Some of the enhanced security measures at the land check points will cause inconvenience to travelers. This is especially so during festive periods and holidays like the upcoming Chinese New Year, when traveller volume is expected to increase. We are making further investments in technology to help us maintain a high level of security at our checkpoints, while facilitating efficient travel. For instance, ICA will implement the BioScreen initiative across all checkpoints to capture the fingerprints of all arriving persons by June 2016. These records will allow us to verify the traveller's identity before he is allowed entry to Singapore, and will facilitate automated self-clearance during departure.
Sharpening our Security Vigilance
11. Under the current heightened threat environment, our security agencies will continue to work closely with international and regional security partners through the exchange of intelligence and information to more effectively combat terrorism. The Police have also enhanced security measures and vigilance. The installation of police cameras at all HDB blocks and multi-storey carparks will be completed by this year and we will look into installing more cameras in HDB estates and other public areas. Police have also stepped up patrols in crowded areas and conducted exercises to raise the level of preparedness of its officers in response to a terrorist attack. Most recently, more than 1800 Home Team officers participated in a multi-agency security exercise on the night of 19 January 2016 to test our contingency and security response plans during a terrorist attack. Participants were not informed prior to this surprise exercise in order to test their response.
12. We will also work with commercial and private establishments to enhance security measures at their premises. One platform is the Safety and Security Watch Group (SSWG). Through SSWG, the Police and the business community have forged a close partnership to counter the threat posed by terrorism. Building managers/owners and security personnel work together with the Police to assess localised threats, share knowledge and pool resources to enhance their security. Response protocols are drawn up to deal with crisis situations. Table top exercises and live exercises are also being carried to test the plans and responses are conducted to validate and refine the contingency plans. The Police will continue to assess the threat level and step up patrols when necessary.
Enhancing our Community Vigilance
13. Even as we enhance security at our borders and within Singapore, government efforts alone will not be adequate. Dealing with terrorism is not just about action by security forces. Each and every one of us has an important part to play. We must be more alert to help prevent a terrorist attack from happening. Should an attack take place, we must be able to respond in a number of ways. Above all, when a terrorist attack happens, we must stay united and resilient as one people. In the coming months, MHA will be working with our partners to further strengthen our community vigilance, cohesion and resilience. We will conduct regular and realistic exercises to help various community groups to be better prepared for and to remain resilient in the aftermath of any attack.
14. Terrorists seek to threaten our security and our way of life. They seek to instil fear and divide the community. Should a terrorist attack occur, it is important for all of us to stand united against these threats, with a spirit of resilience and determination that we should not be defeated.