Published: 06 May 2019
Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether any Singaporeans, Singapore Permanent Residents or families with a Singapore-nexus have been casualties in the bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019; and (b) what can our security agencies learn from the bombing incidents to help deter similar acts of violence from happening in places of worship in Singapore.
1. The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka was one of the most horrific terrorist attacks since September 11, leaving more than 250 dead and 500 wounded.
2. There were no Singaporeans among the casualties, and we do not know of any Singapore Permanent Residents who were injured either. However, a Singapore-based British lawyer, Anita Nicholson and her two children Alexander and Annabel, were killed. We are deeply saddened. MFA has been working with our Honorary Consul-General in Colombo to monitor the situation closely and to help Singaporeans there.
3. There are several lessons.
4. First, international cooperation is crucial to combating terrorism. In the lead-up to the attacks, it was reported that the Sri Lanka authorities had received information from foreign counterparts. Unfortunately, it appears that not enough was done to follow up on the information. In our region, security agencies regularly share intelligence for our common fight against terrorism. Such collaboration has helped to thwart many plots and attacks.
5. Second, the importance of security forces being able to respond swiftly when attacks occur. In periods of heightened threat, Police will step up deployment at places with high human traffic and at sensitive locations such as places of worship. We are ramping up the number of Police In-Situ Reaction Teams deployed on the ground at areas with high footfall, such as Orchard Road and Marina Bay, to provide quick response. They are highly trained to deal with terror incidents, and complement the existing Emergency Response Teams and Rapid Deployment Troops.
6. Third, it is important to have strong support from building owners to adopt enhanced security measures. The Police will work closely with them to enhance the security of their premises. These include installing hostile vehicle mitigation measures, CCTVs, deployment of security officers for checks on persons and belongings, and even structural hardening against bomb blasts.
7. As for places of worship, MCCY has distributed a security advisory to them. Later this year, MCCY will also be introducing the SGSecure Community Network Crisis Preparedness Accreditation Scheme for religious organisations. Under the scheme, MCCY will produce and disseminate checklists and resource guides that will help them improve their crisis preparedness.
8. It is also important that the general population be prepared against the terror threat. If they react appropriately, they will stand a better chance of survival, and perhaps even prevent the attacks in the first place. As part of SGSecure, we sensitise Singaporeans to identify and report suspicious items and behavior, to “Run, Hide, Tell” when the attacks are in progress, and to help fellow Singaporeans who are injured with “Press, Tie, Tell”.
9. The Sri Lanka attacks are another clear example of the need to act decisively and firmly against radicalisation, whether online or on the ground. The leader of the attacks, Zahran Hashim, had been preaching messages of hate against non-Muslims for a period of time. The group he led was not large, but he was able to use social media to spread his message to a wider audience. Despite his active propagation of messages of hate, neither Zahran nor his group were picked up. And his messages of hate were not stopped. This allowed him time and space to brainwash many Sri Lankan Muslims into carrying out the attacks, including some prominent and well-off members of the community.
10. Singapore has zero tolerance. We will continue to be strict about hate speech and radical ideology, and will deal with their purveyors.
11. Finally, the criticality of racial and religious harmony in society. Sri Lanka has gone through years of turmoil because of racial and religious tension. Up till 2009, Sri Lanka was embroiled in a decades-long civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils that killed more than 100,000 people. More recently, there had been riots between the Sinhalese Buddhists and the Muslims. Now, the Catholics and Christians have been targeted. This is very sad.
12. If any attack were to succeed here, we must not allow it to seriously affect the racial and religious harmony which we have painstakingly built up over 50 years, and which has been a cornerstone of our peace and progress. Our racial and religious harmony did not come about by chance, and it should never be taken for granted. It is fragile, and can all too easily be shattered, not just by distrust in the aftermath of a terror attack, but by careless and irresponsible words and expressions during times of peace. Nor should we believe that no one will be offended, and allow offensive speech or hate speech in public discourse.