Wednesday 17 December 2014

Sydney siege: Stern reminder of terror threat, say PM Lee and Singapore leaders

Framework for granting bail will be reviewed, says Law Minister
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2014

THE Sydney hostage crisis is a stern reminder that the threat of terrorism remains a real and present concern, Singapore's leaders said yesterday.

They also expressed sadness at the loss of innocent lives from the incident on Monday, in which a gunman took hostages at a cafe in the city centre. Two people and the gunman were killed, and at least four others were injured.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the incident is a lesson for Singapore to keep up its guard.

"Despite all our precautions, we can never completely rule out such an incident here," he wrote.

"If it ever happens, we need the cohesion and resilience to deal with it calmly and as one united people, and not let it divide or destroy our society."

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli also took to social media to comment on the 16-hour siege, which ended early yesterday morning after heavily armed security forces stormed the cafe.

PM Lee recalled a briefing that he held with local community and religious leaders on extremist terrorism last month, where they talked about how terrorism remains a live threat and the danger of self-radicalisation.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Law, noted that gunman Mon Haron Monis was out on bail while being accused of being an accessory to the murder of his former wife, and had a history of criminal offences.

This calls for a careful relook, he said. "I have asked MinLaw to review our framework for granting bail."

In Singapore, murder and most sexual assaults are non-bailable offences. A person charged with abetting in such offences will also not be eligible for bail.

Meanwhile, DPM Teo said the siege in Sydney showed that terrorist attacks by individuals can take place even when there is heightened security - Australia had raised its terrorism alert to "high" in September.

Everyone can play a part in the fight against terrorism by staying sharp and reporting any suspicious activity to the authorities immediately, said Mr Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security and Home Affairs Minister.

He said the authorities are in touch with their counterparts in Australia to get more details of the incident.

Defence Minister Ng said Singaporeans must not allow any person or group to "weaken or fracture the strong ties that we have painstakingly built to forge a harmonious multiracial and multi-religious nation".

Reiterating points made by the ministers, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the incident "highlights the danger posed to all societies by terrorism and extremist ideology, and underscores the need for continued vigilance in dealing with them".

Mr Masagos, in his message on Facebook, said it is sad that "madness" led to the death of young innocents. "I can understand their children and loved ones growing up angry with Muslims. But I hope they will heal because only forgiveness will stop this madness from reaping its malicious intent," he said.

'Strong inter-faith bonds' will help S'pore weather any attack
By Walter Sim And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2014

THE Sydney hostage incident has cast a spotlight on the need for Singapore to be on guard constantly, especially against lone-wolf attacks, security experts said.

Such an incident may cause social tensions if it happened here, they added.

But like the community and religious leaders interviewed, they believe Singapore is well positioned to manage the tensions and withstand the fallout.

Their confidence stems particularly from the strong bond that people of different races and faiths have formed over the years.

"Lone wolves can cause serious death and destruction, and they can shake resilience and inter- community relations," said Associate Professor Ahmed Salah Hashim of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

"Singapore, however, is prepared for that because it is a multicultural society and cannot afford these kinds of fissures."

On Monday, self-proclaimed spiritual healer Man Haron Monis held patrons of a Sydney cafe hostage for 17 hours.

Three people died, including the gunman.

But as the siege wore on, anti- Muslim sentiment reared its ugly head. Australians responded with calls for tolerance and used the #illridewithyou hashtag on Twitter, after a woman on a train in Brisbane was saddened to see a Muslim woman quietly removing her headscarf.

The incident sparked offers by Australians to accompany Muslims on public transport and ensure their safety.

The experts said a similar rallying cry would diffuse communal tensions arising from an extremist attack.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said it was "unrealistic" to think there would be no suspicion towards a community whose member is engaged in a terrorist act.

For this reason, he said, it is important for the community's leaders to dissociate the criminal acts of a few from the majority, "even though the perpetrators may claim affiliation and motivations which arise from a religious tradition".

Dr Mathews believes that the strong links among members of Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs) here will help minimise such suspicions.

The IRCCs, formed in 2002, bring together community and religious leaders and help drive home the message that the actions of a few radicals are in no way representative of the Muslim community.

Mr Barry Desker, former RSIS dean, said one "major asset" for Singapore is the resolve of Muslim leaders in starting the Religious Rehabilitation Group to counsel detained Jemaah Islamiah members and counter the appeal of religious extremists.

It is a point shared by community leaders such as Reverend Kang Ho Soon, a pastor at Trinity Methodist Church, who said building bridges across faith communities is a constant process and helps to build empathy across faith lines.

Master Chung Kwang Tong of the Taoist Federation Youth Group added: "We know our Singaporean Muslim brothers and sisters well. I believe Singaporeans are rational and will react sensibly in such a situation."

Member of Parliament Alex Yam, vice-chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said Singaporeans need to avoid stereotyping any race or religion.

He said: "Terrorists should simply be viewed as who they really are: Cowards who hide behind the veil of righteousness."

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