Published: 28 July 2023
Minister Tan See Leng
SMS Heng Chee How
MOS Faishal, Xueling
Business and Community Leaders
Ladies and Gentlemen
A very good afternoon to all of you.
Introduction – Current Progress
1. In 2016, we launched the SGSecure movement.
2. Some of you may recall the November 2015 terror attack in Paris which left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. And a few months later, in March 2016, the Brussels bombings, where 32 people died and hundreds more were injured.
3. ISIS claimed responsibility for both the attacks.
4. It brought home very sharply, that you can protect and secure specific buildings, but you can’t turn the whole country into a garrison or a cantonment. Life in an open society will become impossible.
5. The Paris and Brussels attacks showed how easily centres of population, urban centres, cities, can be attacked, with many casualties and causing significant psychological impact.
6. We had been preparing before that, but when we saw the modus operandi, the way they acted, it gave us a sense that we needed to step up our responses, and we immediately looked at what we needed to do.
7. So, we set up the Emergency Response Teams in 2016 to improve our ability to respond quickly, to any location in Singapore.
8. The population also has to be aware that these things can happen, and we have to help them to be ready psychologically. First, to be able to identify possible attacks. Second, if an attack happens, to be able to cope with it psychologically, and as a community, and to recover from the attack. And they can help themselves, if they are caught in the middle of an attack.
9. We have tried to make people familiar with ‘Run-Hide-Tell’.
10. But, ISIS-type attacks are just one type.
11. Another type of terrorist threat that we have seen, is an increase in people getting self-radicalised online and carrying out lone-wolf attacks.
12. For example, the Christmas market shooting in Strasbourg, France, in December 2018, was planned and carried out by a French national, who was said to have been self-radicalised while in prison.
13. There has also been a rise in right-wing extremism.
14. The March 2019 Christchurch attacks were carried out by a right-wing extremist gunman who killed 51 victims in a mosque and injured 40 others.
15. The perpetrator is an Australian who has been described as a white supremacist who had Islamophobia.
16. In 2019, at a community conference like today’s, I announced that we needed to raise preparedness levels, so that the public will know what to do and how to help others during a terror attack.
17. We have done so at the institutional level, such as in schools, workplaces, and places of worship.
18. On the whole, Singapore is now better prepared, because of the strong support from the community and our partners.
19. From a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, we know that there is a high level of vigilance. More than 8 in 10 say they will report to the authorities if they see suspicious behaviours or items in a public space.
20. That has been quite a consistent feature in our surveys over the last few years.
21. And, about two-thirds of the respondents have been trained or were familiar with emergency preparedness skills, which is a significant increase compared to 40% who had been trained in 2017.
22. We have to keep sustaining the momentum.
Current Terrorism Landscape
23. The terror threat here remains very real. The real difficulty in Singapore is trying to persuade people that the terror threat is very real. In one way, we are in a better position than most other countries because we are smaller and there is a high degree of trust in the Government. When we say let’s get this done, people will come forward – community leaders, partners, people come forward. The flipside, and the difficulty, is that most people don’t think anything will happen in Singapore. It is very difficult to persuade people that this is serious, this is real, and we need to take this seriously.
24. The Internal Security Department (ISD) just released the Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report this Monday.
25. There are three key points in the report.
26. First, Singapore remains an attractive target for both foreign terrorist groups as well as our own self-radicalised lone wolves.
27. Since 2015, we have issued orders under the Internal Security Act (ISA) to 37 Singaporeans and 12 foreigners, all self-radicalised.
28. Second, the primary threat driver today has become online radicalisation.
29. Terrorist groups have become good at using the internet to spread their propaganda and conduct recruitment.
30. And we see young people falling for this. A lot of radicalisation is going on through online platforms.
31. Third, is the concerning trend of increasingly young people, younger people, getting radicalised.
32. Since 2015, 11 self-radicalised Singaporeans who were aged 20 or below have been dealt with under the ISA. Five of these young persons wanted to carry out attacks in Singapore.
33. Before 2014, the youngest self-radicalised person detained was 20 years old. From 2015 to now, in the last eight years, the youngest was 15 years old. That individual was detained last year.
Our Next Lap in SGSecure
34. I said earlier that the longer we stay free of an attack, the less fear or concern there is. But these young people that we picked up, any one of them could have carried out an attack. So, it is not that we are completely free. It could easily have happened. So, what is the next stage?
35. For the next stage, we have to look at what will happen if there is a successful attack.
36. If there is a successful attack, if you look at France – after the terror attacks in 2015, there was a surge in Islamophobia and attacks on the Muslim community, hate crimes. You found anti-Islamic graffiti, many phrases that said, "Death to Muslims", in multiple public places. After the attack in 2020 that killed French teacher Samuel Paty, anti-Muslim online discourse increased by more than 800%.
37. If you look at the United States, immediately after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, there was a spirit of unity, but it did not last very long.
38. Instead, the clearest trend was that there has been a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments. In 2017, almost half of Muslim American adults said they had personally experienced some form of discrimination in the previous year because of their religion.
39. If you look at these examples in the US, in France, I think they give us pause for thought. They are concerning.
40. So, if there is a successful terror attack, the consequences, even if we're able to stop it, would be quite far reaching in our society. The consequences of a terror attack – even if foiled – can be far-reaching, it can deepen mistrust between groups of people, and create a climate of fear.
41. This is one of the reasons why we take this very seriously. Because it's not just a terror attack, it is what it does to our society and our unity.
42. But, we cannot do this alone. We have to have the community come in and join us in this.
43. Thus, the next phase of SGSecure will focus on three areas.
Focus Area 1: Mobilise Community
44. First – and this is an ongoing project, it is not new – mobilising the community.
45. The new tagline for SGSecure is “What’s Your Role?”
46. The MHA survey I mentioned earlier showed that the public wants to contribute.
47. More than 9 in 10 felt that they have a role to play in preventing and dealing with a terror attack.
48. Our focus group discussions show that people worry that they are not professionally trained; and they are unsure of how they can contribute.
49. We need to tell them it is good to pick up emergency preparedness skills, but they can still help even if you do not have such skills.
50. Everyone can contribute in many different ways. You will hear more about it later. That is the first area.
Focus Area 2: Strengthen Partnerships
51. The second area – we will strengthen our partnerships; build, deepen and broaden the relationships in society.
52. One of the ways is through the Community Response Roundtables (CRRTs).
53. CRRTs seek to bring together leaders from various domains – schools, businesses, and religious and community organisations – who are in the same geographical area, to build community-level emergency preparedness.
54. For example:
(a) Punggol Town CRRT and an NGO, Humanity Matters, co-organised an inter-faith dialogue in March this year.
(b) In January, Ayer Rajah-Gek Poh CRRT worked with Masjid Hasanah to organise a Community Emergency Preparedness Programme for the congregation.
55. We have so far formed 22 CRRTs in a number of constituencies and the intention is to have them islandwide.
56. We also welcome other ground-up projects.
57. If you have ideas, please give them to the SGSecure Programme Office or other relevant government agencies. S,o that is the second area – deepen our partnerships and relationships, build it across the island.
Focus Area 3: Engage Youths
58. The third area is to engage young people.
59. The Ministry of Education has been holding school talks and lockdown drills, to sensitise and prepare our children.
60. Our online engagements, and the next series of roadshows, will also feature segments like a murder mystery role-playing game video series – in the style of a reality show. It will be premiered by MINDEF later at this conference.
61. The cohesion that we have today in Singapore did not occur by chance.
62. It was the work of generations, painstaking work, to really understand that you can build strength and harness diversity to build some core unity.
63. It is the aim of the terrorists to break that.
64. We have to stay prepared, to fight for it, and prevent the terrorists from succeeding.
65. Thank you, and I wish you all a fruitful conference.