Published: 14 September 2021
Mr Yip Hon Weng: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs given the situation in Afghanistan (a) what are the implications on security in Singapore and the neighbouring region; and (b) what are the Ministry's plans to review our SGSecure national terrorism awareness movement to remind residents in Singapore about the importance of staying vigilant and our roles in combating terrorism.
Mr Desmond Choo: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs with Afghanistan coming under the control of the Taliban, what is the expected impact on Singapore’s and the region’s security, especially terrorist activities.
1. We are watching the unfolding developments in Afghanistan closely. While there is currently no information of a specific terrorist threat to Singapore arising from the situation there, we are concerned if it would provide fertile conditions for transnational militant organisations such as Al-Qaeda (AQ) and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to regroup or establish safe havens there, in the same manner that they had exploited other conflict zones like Syria/ Iraq. These terrorist groups can also be expected to propagate an ideological narrative based on the American withdrawal, to draw recruits there.
2. Our experience with the Soviet-Afghan conflict may be instructive. The conflict drew an estimated 10,000 foreign fighters over a 10-year period (1979 – 1989), which included several hundred Southeast Asians. Through their experience in Afghanistan, these Southeast Asian militants developed links to AQ and formed a fraternity of mujahideen (fighters). Upon their return to Southeast Asia, they continued to pursue a path of violence through membership in regional militant groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), and imparted their operational skills to fellow members. At least 11 Singapore JI detainees were known to have attended military training in AQ camps in Afghanistan. Upon their return, several participated in terror plots targeting Singapore, including the collaboration with an AQ operative to mount suicide truck-bomb attacks against western embassies in Singapore.
3. In recent years too, Afghanistan has continued to draw militants from Southeast Asia. In 2019, a handful of Indonesian ISIS militants joined ISIS-K in Afghanistan. One of them was Saefullah, who plotted and financed attacks in Southeast Asia via a transnational network while he was embedded with ISIS-K. Notably, Saefullah facilitated the travel of an Indonesian couple to Jolo in southern Philippines, where they mounted suicide bombings on 27 January 2019.
4. The situation in Afghanistan will likely remain in flux for some time, and the resulting instability may again attract radicalised individuals. We also expect social media platforms to continue to be used in such radicalisation and recruitment.
5. The community plays a vital role in the fight against radicalisation and terrorism. The SGSecure movement has greatly strengthened our preparedness as individuals and as a country, to deal with a terror attack.
6. In a recent survey, more than 96% of residents agreed that “All Singaporeans have a role to play in preventing and dealing with a terror attack”, with close to 9 in 10 affirming that they are prepared to take action to keep the community safe and secure, for example by reporting suspicious activities and helping others in an emergency situation.
7. In particular, family members and friends are best placed to detect possible signs of radicalisation. Anyone who knows or suspects that a person has intentions to travel to Afghanistan or other conflict zones, or has been radicalised, should promptly alert the authorities.
8. Just as the authorities must be well prepared to stage a swift and effective response when an attack happens, it is equally important that the community know how best to respond.
9. The Home Team has worked with partner agencies to enhance the preparedness of our neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces, places of worship and community organisations. One of the initiatives is the Community Response Roundtable (CRRT), which aims to facilitate greater collaboration in crisis preparedness at the local level. We have successfully piloted it in several constituencies. These CRRTs comprise representatives from schools, businesses, grassroots, community and religious organisations in the neighbourhood. We intend to set up CRRTs in more constituencies.
10. We will continue to press ahead with our SGSecure efforts to strengthen Singapore’s vigilance, preparedness and resilience. We appeal to all like-minded partners and the public, to join us in this whole-of-society effort to safeguard our security and way of life.