Saturday 24 January 2015

Terrorism: How prepared is Singapore?

Insight takes a look at what has been done - and what more can be done - to keep Singapore safe from a terrorist attack
By Rachel Chang And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

MASKED gunmen on the run in Paris last week left a bloody trail in unassuming places: the offices of a satirical magazine, a Jewish grocery store, a petrol station.

These join a long list of innocuous places - a shopping mall in Nairobi, a cafe in Sydney, a train station in Kunming - which have been turned into execution sites in recent years.

With the "low-cost, high-impact" style of attacks by radicalised individuals or small groups increasingly the norm in terrorist attacks, Singaporeans and the Government are trying to adapt.

Cafes and shops have been putting in place upgraded surveillance systems, while security industry players expect counter-terrorism training to soon be made a core certification for the thousands of security guards at condominiums and offices.

Over the past six years, "soft targets" ranging from Biopolis to Sentosa have been the sites of staged bomb detonations and shooting rampages as part of the annual Exercise Heartbeat, designed to stress-test how the authorities and their private-sector partners respond to such an attack.

But there is only so much that can be done to secure ordinary public places without costly disruptions to the economy and to Singaporeans' everyday lives.

"You have to have a balance between free society and security. You can't turn every place into a prison or a fortress," said Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam last week, after signing a condolence book at the French Embassy for victims of the Paris attacks that killed 17.

Experts note that the death count from these soft-target incidents is usually low, with little long-term fall-out, as the attack sites are not integral, strategic ones like power plants or airports.

Rather, the aim is psychological damage and lingering trauma in the form of paranoia, mistrust and acts of revenge against racial and religious minorities.

"Such a terrorist attack itself is not damaging to Singapore," Dr Rohan Gunaratna, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), makes clear. "It's the aftermath of an attack that will harm Singapore."

Are the strategies enough?

Since 9/11, the Singapore authorities have honed an overarching counter-terrorism strategy that experts say is one of the best in the world.

Singapore has no home-grown terrorist groups, unlike Indonesia and the Philippines, and is blessed with an island geography demarcated by clear, policeable borders.

Strict border control to prevent the flow of both radicalised individuals and a broad list of controlled items - even fertilisers, which contain the bomb-making material ammonium nitrate - is the strategy's foundation.

Intelligence-sharing with South-east Asian neighbours of the sort that decimated the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network is a major prong, as is what Muslim scholars have termed "the Singapore approach" of a sustained ideological campaign to root out and counter extremist teachings that may influence some in the Muslim community, with respected clerics leading the charge.

But the strongest of foundations have hairline cracks.

Social-media networks have effectively spread the transnational ideology of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to all corners of the world, Singapore included.

Last year, the Government confirmed that a few Singaporeans had travelled to Syria to take part in the conflict there; hundreds of Malaysians and Indonesians have done the same.

ISIS has also perfected what experts call "crowd-sourced terrorism": inspiring individuals to unleash violence in their societies with crude, basic weapons.

"The terrorist group provides the overall extremist narrative through social-media channels that legitimises violence. Vulnerable, disaffected individuals do not need any training or specialised skills and can just engage in acts like knifing incidents or driving cars into crowded bus stops," says Dr Kumar Ramakrishna, head of RSIS' Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS).

Access to firearms and explosive material is strictly controlled in Singapore, and the authorities require shops to register buyers of everyday items which could be weaponised.

But the use of "watermelon knives" by terrorists to kill 31 people in China's Yunnan province last March illustrates that no regulations can stop a determined radical wreaking havoc.

Dr Gunaratna says Singapore must restrict even more tightly access to websites that espouse radical ideology, not just those hosted in the Middle East, but also those from the developed West.

Experts are unanimous that traditional policing methods are unequal to the challenge of the self-radicalised terrorist.

"The best way to counter the attacks of these '"no-pattern" pattern' individuals is to have better community policing," says CENS associate research fellow Joseph Franco. "Kicking down doors and raids can only do so much. The best way to prevent and pre-empt attacks is to get information from the ground."

Says Dr Ramakrishna: "Community and religious leaders, teachers, family and friends of vulnerable individuals - which includes commanders of young national servicemen due to their access to arms - must be more aware of early warning indicators of radicalisation."

Tip-offs from ordinary Singaporeans have proved decisive in protecting the country from harm: JI's presence in Singapore was undetected until a member of the local Muslim community alerted the authorities, just after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on America, to an individual with links to Al-Qaeda.

From there, Singapore law enforcement uncovered a cell of over 30 JI members.

In other countries, vigilant individuals have single-handedly foiled threats. For example, a shopkeeper in Britain once noticed a university-educated, poshly-accented man buying huge amounts of ammonium nitrate and flagged him to the authorities, who uncovered a terror plot. The usual buyers of fertiliser material in Britain are manual labourers in the agriculture sector.

But some worry that Singapore's success thus far has led to complacency.

This is compounded by how the authorities' counter-terrorism strategy is largely invisible to the ordinary Singaporean, as it favours tight border control and intelligence-sharing over more disruptive, visible methods like installing security screenings at every MRT station - something commuters in Beijing, for example, endure.

"Complacency is always a potential problem, not only for us but also for many other countries," says Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah. "Human memory is short. When things are safe and uneventful for a long while, people tend to assume that things will always continue like that. However, recent events have shown that peace can be abruptly shattered. We need all Singaporeans to play their part to prevent such attacks by being vigilant and alert."

Says CENS research fellow Damien Cheong: "People generally believe that Singapore is very safe, and that should a crime or attack be carried out, the authorities would be swift to take action. Many of us as individuals are ill-equipped to handle our personal safety effectively, due in part to complacency and a lack of situational awareness and training. This is something we should work on."

United community is vital

Ultimately, the most important question is not whether an attack like the massacre in Paris could happen in Singapore, but how the country and its citizens will respond if it does.

"Can I say that it will never happen (in Singapore)? I cannot say," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier this week. "So what I can do is to try my best to prepare people psychologically, so that if it happens, we're not completely shocked and stunned, and we are able to maintain the ties between the communities and we keep our multiracial fabric.

"Because the greatest threat to us is not just direct casualties of an incident, but the trust and the confidence that we have built up over the years between the communities."

Ms Indranee believes that when it comes to multiracial and religious tolerance and harmony, "Singapore is doing well by any measure".

"You have not, for example, seen here the kind of angst and soul-searching that is currently going on in Europe. One of the reasons is that we have been resolute in creating common space and common respect for each other."

The resilience of a society, says counter-terrorism and political science expert Bilveer Singh, lies not just in deterring attacks but also in "coming out stronger from them".

"If we fail to recover and in fact go on an internal blood-letting, then you would have allowed the terrorist to succeed," says Dr Singh.

"A united nation is the single most important message to the terrorist that he has failed. And that is not just about the Government responding but, more importantly, the people and community."

Cafe puts security cameras in 50 outlets
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

THE Sydney cafe siege has been a wake-up call for some eateries here.

A major chain, Ya Kun Kaya Toast, is installing security cameras in its 50 outlets and staff now look out for "suspicious activity", such as someone loitering or leaving a bag behind, says executive chairman Adrin Loi.

"There have been so many cases lately. We thought we should do something in our outlets," says the 60-year-old. "The Sydney incident showed us how vulnerable a society can be."

The cameras, which will be monitored by managers during opening hours, cost about $1,500 per outlet.

Other options like hiring security guards or installing metal detectors were considered, but they "cost a lot and were impractical".

Insight contacted 12 businesses - coffee chains and independent cafes, as well as their landlords like malls and hotels - and while none had a specific action plan to deal with a terror attack, most assured us that they had some security protocol in place. However, many were unwilling to elaborate, for fear of jeopardising security.

Even before the Sydney siege, Windowsill Pies in Jalan Besar had put in place measures such as security cameras and ensuring that staff knew who to call in an emergency. Staff are also trained to deal with situations like a fire.

The cafe's co-owner, Mr Sean Gwee, says: "You can only plan for the common ones. It's counter-productive to work on the rare possibilities."

Still, one cafe owner admitted to Insight that staff at her coffee and dessert cafe "won't know what to do" if a hostage situation occurred on her premises. But now, "we will think about it, come up with some standard operating procedures".

At Starbucks, with more than 100 outlets here, seating areas and restrooms are monitored by staff on a regular basis to identify safety concerns. Store managers are also briefed to take swift action, such as alerting the building management or police, if anything raises a red flag.

At The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, which houses several cafes, simulation exercises are held monthly and staff are trained to report any suspicious activity.

CapitaLand, which operates 19 malls here, reviews its security measures regularly.

Security Association (Singapore) president T. Mogan says it is important the basic building blocks are there: Staff must know how to think on their feet, act responsibly in an emergency, and look out for suspicious behaviour.

"Don't go and be a hero and get shot in the chest. Even a trained person can get injured...," he advises.

He urges cafe owners to install cameras, train staff to "red-flag" suspicious activity, and brush up on emergency procedures. He also calls on malls to do an "after-action review" in the light of the attack in Sydney.

But some cafe owners say this is not practical. One says: "You want me to take a bunch of workers and train them? We don't even have enough manpower for basic production."

Teachers highlight to students learning points
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

WHEN it comes to safeguarding schools from terrorist attacks, or the fallout from one, international ones here are stepping up security, while one aspect of local educators' overall approach is education itself.

The Education Ministry is tight-lipped on actual security measures in public schools here, saying only that teachers and school leaders highlight current issues and world events for students to discuss pertinent learning points.

Insight understands the ministry's Character and Citizenship Education branch regularly puts together packages based on current affairs - such as the Paris attacks - to educate students in primary and secondary schools and junior colleges.

Teachers say such packages help set the guidelines for educators, as not all are experienced in leading discussions on current affairs and world issues.

But it seems Singapore parents have other concerns. Mr Gerard Hooi, who has two daughters in secondary school, says he worries more about them getting into road accidents.

"Terrorist attacks are not something I think about every day," he says, adding that schools now also employ security guards, when they did not used to in the past.

"We have strict gun laws here and I trust the Government to fend off attacks," he says.

Schools came under the global security spotlight last month, when Taleban gunmen killed about 150 people - most of them children - in the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attackers gained access to school grounds by climbing over its boundary wall.

Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says schools are increasingly targeted as terrorist groups aim to create fear in the community. "No one wants their child to be hurt. So attacking children is the ultimate harm a terrorist group can do to anyone," he says.

He adds that schools should ramp up their security efforts, instead of leaving it to the authorities. "Protecting soft targets is a challenge to the Government, because there are just so many of them," he adds.

The University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database, which records more than 125,000 terrorist attacks in the world since 1970, showed that attacks on schools in the last decade have risen. In 2004, the database recorded 25 attacks against educational institutions. By last year, the figure had risen to 371.

The National University of Singapore says it works closely with the nearby Clementi police division. Staff and students can also contact the campus security office via a 24-hour hotline.

Its spokesman adds that faculty and students are free to study a wide range of topics, express their views and debate ideas.

"Nonetheless, issues concerning race, religion and politics can be contentious and sensitive, and members of our community should always be mindful to show due care and respect with their words and actions," the spokesman adds.

One international school here that has stepped up security is French school Lycee Francais de Singapour in Ang Mo Kio.

Mr Thomas Bondiguel, first secretary of the French Embassy, says: "Following the tragic terrorist attacks in France last week, the embassy, in close cooperation with the Singapore authorities, has taken measures to step up security at all the French installations in Singapore."

He adds that these include the French school, the embassy, the ambassador's residence and the Alliance Francaise, but did not elaborate on specific measures.

The Tanglin Trust School, which has 2,770 students across 50 nationalities, says the school compound in Portsdown Road is heavily guarded. Visitors are required to sign in, while all cars without a school decal are checked, says chief executive Peter Derby-Crook.

The school also has an infra-red beaming intrusion system and bomb suppression blankets, which can be used to contain a blast. Its staff are also trained to handle bomb threats.

"We practise regular lockdown exercises involving different scenarios...," says Mr Derby-Crook. "Both children and staff are aware of the protocol and have practised what to do."

Security at train and bus stations stepped up
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

TERRORISTS have already had one of Singapore's own train stations in their sights.

In January 2002, the authorities revealed that Yishun MRT station had been the target of a bomb plot by a terrorist cell here. The unnerving revelation came just months after 9/11, and underpinned an urgent need to bolster the security of "soft targets" such as train stations and bus interchanges.

This was further driven home by an attack in Madrid in March 2004, during which 10 coordinated explosions claimed the lives of 191 railway passengers.

The very next month,Singapore formed the Public Transport Security Committee, a multi-agency body which reviews the security arrangements of the public transport system, and recommends and oversees improvements.

A chilling reminder of its important role came in July the following year, when suicide bombers targeted underground trains and a bus in London, killing 52.

Indeed, the next month here, a dedicated Police MRT Unit was introduced to step up the police presence. This unit was upgraded four years later into a full division, the Public Transport Security Command.

Public transport operators (PTOs) SMRT and SBS Transit also started employing their own security staff, whose roles include conducting bag checks.

Surveillance cameras are now in place at all MRT and LRT stations and bus interchanges. Bins and postboxes - into which incendiary items could be dropped - were moved out of the vicinity.

Public awareness has been heightened as well, through regular announcements to tell commuters to look out for suspicious items left behind by others.

"Commuters can play an important role in our security efforts," says Ms Tammy Tan, senior vice-president of corporate communications at SBS Transit.

However, confidence in the security of the transport network was shaken in May 2010, when two vandals cut through the fencing at SMRT's Changi depot and spray-painted a train. In August 2011, a similar incident was repeated at the Bishan depot.

Security at train and bus depots has since been beefed up, through the deployment of more patrols and security personnel, and the installation of fence intrusion-detection systems.

But it appears that more needs to be done. In November last year, two German nationals allegedly breached the Bishan depot and vandalised a train.

Investigations are ongoing and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has conducted a detailed site survey with SMRT and other government agencies.

In LTA's announcement of higher rail service standards on Thursday, security was not left out. PTOs will have to ensure that their video surveillance systems meet a certain level of reliability.

Mr T. Mogan, security director of consultants Dragnet, points out that all security systems require constant refinement, through regular audits and reviews.

Finance offices have drills, strict access rules
By Jacqueline Woo, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

GIVEN Singapore's openness and connectivity as a global financial centre, owners of key office buildings are only too well aware that they could become prime targets in terror attacks.

This is especially so at the Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC) - home to big-name corporations such as Standard Chartered Bank, American Express and DBS Bank - which has the largest share of top-tier office space here.

Together with One Raffles Quay, it has more than 100 tenants and about 30,000 staff, says Raffles Quay Asset Management (RQAM), which manages both developments.

For such buildings, the high concentration of usually defenceless office workers is more than good reason to fortify the walls against assailants looking for "soft targets".

RQAM tells Insight that strict security measures are already in place.

Employees and visitors, for instance, can access the lift lobbies only by tapping a special access card on a turnstile. This will then direct them to a designated lift that is programmed to go up only to their destinations.

Visitors and those making deliveries must exchange their ID cards for the access passes.

"We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of our tenants and visitors," says RQAM chief executive Warren Bishop.

Closed-circuit television cameras at strategic locations within the development, such as main entrances and exits, are also monitored round the clock.

This is on top of the use of security personnel, who undertake regular patrols, says RQAM.

On the other hand, office buildings with less stringent safeguards may not even have screening processes in place, which means that visitors can enter and leave the building freely.

MBFC has also participated twice in anti-terror drills by the Singapore Police Force, with simulated attacks at its premises.

One involved a staged firefight at the Marina Bay Link Mall, which is part of MBFC, as "explosions" went off at the nearby Downtown MRT station. This exercise was in October last year.

In the event the police issue a security advisory, RQAM will activate a ready "stepped-up security plan" for its buildings.

This includes deploying more security personnel in the buildings, further limiting access to the lobbies, and tightening the security screening processes for visitors and vehicles, it says.

Both the MBFC and One Raffles Quay are members of the Safety and Security Watch Group, a counter-terrorism initiative led by the police, and they receive regular updates on Singapore's security situation.

"We remain vigilant by constantly reviewing our security measures with the authorities and industry experts to ensure a safe environment for all who work in and pass through our buildings," adds Mr Bishop.

Other key corporations are not taking security here for granted, too.

Besides having security systems and procedures, OCBC Bank holds regular seminars to raise awareness among employees of possible risks in the building.

This is aimed at "promoting greater vigilance" in the event of a security threat, says Mr Patrick Chew, the bank's head of operational risk management.

He adds that the bank will take steps to raise security levels where necessary, which could include installing metal detectors, X-ray scanners, or other new technologies.

The CapitaLand Group, which owns and manages several office buildings in the central business district, including Six Battery Road, says that it reviews its security procedures and systems on a regular basis to ensure they "remain relevant, adequate, and ready to respond to any situation at any time".

Across the financial industry as a whole, the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) runs a large-scale business continuity exercise every two to three years to test its crisis response.

The exercises involve the simulation of physical attacks by terrorists, while extending also to cyber attacks and flu pandemic outbreaks.

After the most recent run, conducted in November last year, ABS director Ong-Ang Ai Boon noted that the industry had gleaned "valuable lessons" which will go to "enhancing the resilience of Singapore's financial sector".

Sports organisers work with govt agencies
By Chua Siang Yee and Sanjay Nair, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

THE 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three and injured more than 250 racegoers, dispelled any notion that sporting events - even one as steeped in the spirit of community as a marathon - are safe from terror attacks.

The threat is made worse by the fact that sporting occasions are "soft targets" - they are especially difficult to secure, given the large number of people involved.

As well as the attack on Boston, the 1972 Munich Olympics were targeted. Closer to home, Sri Lanka's cricket team were fired on by 12 gunmen near a stadium in Pakistan in 2009.

While the threat level in Singapore is generally lower than that in other countries, officials here say there was a step-up in security at sporting events in the immediate aftermath of the Boston tragedy, although security plans are reviewed with each event.

At the 2013 Standard Chartered Marathon, X-ray machines and metal detectors were put in place as part of heightened measures during the "tension period" after the Boston bombings.

Spectrum Worldwide CEO Chris Robb, whose company runs the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore and Cycle Asia Singapore, says: "As organisers of mass-participation events, we always work closely with the government agencies to understand any changes in security level and follow their recommendation on the security plan to be put in place for each event.

"Our head of safety and security, Robert Scully, was previously senior assistant director (safety and security) at Singapore Grand Prix and is vastly experienced as well in assessing such risks."

Insight understands that race organisers hold regular consultations with police, among other government agencies, to determine the threat level and security guidelines before an event.

Other measures include the use of trace detectors, which can detect particles and vapours of explosives. They are commonly used to scan bags at baggage deposit areas, and are now par for the course at mass-participation events.

While one would expect the starting and finishing points of a race to be of higher risk, measures are also put in place to safeguard the route.

Course security personnel - essentially mobile security units - are stationed at various points of a route to respond to any threats.

Extra security cameras are set up at "hot spots" across the race route to look out for suspicious behaviour.

Organisers also rely on their team of auxiliary police officers and security officers to ensure crowd control and to identify threats early. In addition, race volunteers are briefed on safety protocol and told to report suspicious activity immediately.

Mr Scully, who has 20 years' experience working in the security field, says: "Organisers will ensure there is enough manpower to protect an event, but there is also an onus on the participants to report any suspicious items or behaviour. Security is everyone's responsibility.

Hotels: The main challenge is vigilance
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

THE man wears an earpiece, a clear giveaway of his role as a security officer in an Orchard Road hotel. But it is his frequent rounds in the lobby that show he means business. He establishes eye contact with this reporter thrice in the 40 minutes she "loiters" there.

Later, he tells her: "Don't worry. If you were really a terrorist, I definitely saw you." He points to two closed-circuit TV cameras hanging from the ceiling: "So did these."

Security experts say there's plenty of surveillance equipment in most public places here. A post-9/11 world and an educational campaign have also made Singaporeans more aware of their surroundings: Many know that they must alert the authorities if they see suspicious items like an abandoned bag.

But is vigilance enough, if terrorists target hotels here?

Between 2002 and 2011, there were at least 18 major terror attacks against hotels worldwide, says the New York State Intelligence Centre, in a 2012 report. It defines a major attack as one which results in at least 10 casualties.

For many, the 2008 attack in Mumbai springs to mind. One of the 166 people killed was Ms Lo Hwei Yen, the first Singaporean to die in an overseas terrorist attack. Her body was found on the 19th floor of the Oberoi Trident Hotel.

What steps are hotel groups taking to prevent a similar tragedy here? Those who spoke to Insight did not give specifics, citing security concerns.

But they can look to the Singapore Standard for Hotel Security, set in 2009, for guidance. It covers, among other things, access, electronic surveillance and the quality of security personnel.

Most of the Singapore Hotels Association's members try to meet these guidelines, says executive director Margaret Heng, adding that the main challenge is ensuring "both staff and the public remain vigilant at all times".

A Marina Mandarin spokesman says security and surveillance equipment at its hotels are updated regularly, with the most recent taking place last November. In line with the new Personal Data Protection Act, staff also undergo training on how to secure guests' private details, to prevent sabotage.

Meanwhile, a Grand Hyatt spokesman says the hotel has "multiple measures in place", including regular emergency drills. And at the Swissotel Merchant Court, security officers monitor crime cases in the area and watch if weak spots emerge on the hotel's property.

Several hotels also participate in emergency response exercises, like the police's yearly Exercise Heartbeat, which simulates terror threats.

At the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel - the subject of a non-credible terror "threat" by an international student on Facebook in 2012 - it was clear to this reporter that there was a strong security presence, with at least one officer in full view of an entry or exit point. An officer there who spoke on condition of anonymity said all cars which park there are checked thoroughly by his colleagues.

But options are more limited when it comes to human traffic: An officer must make a judgment call based on body language.

That's because metal detectors can be troublesome, especially when it comes to tourists here to shop or hotel guests who wear jewellery or watches.

Additional measures would also change the environment. In 2004, 10 bombs aboard four commuter trains in Madrid were set off; 191 people were killed. Here, a year later, a new unit comprising armed police troopers was created to patrol MRT stations. Today, these guards can be seen at various stations occasionally.

Similarly, guards at various hotels say they step up checks after attacks in neighbouring countries, or based on advice from the police.

The officer at the Orchard hotel told this reporter that his colleagues checked the undercarriage of cars more zealously and frequently in the wake of the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005.

Such measures come with a cost, says an expert, who asked not to be named. "It's not just inconvenient, it also impacts the psyche," he says. "Vigilance means you're less at peace."

Lone wolves a ticking time bomb
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

A WEEK before Christmas, the world held its breath as a tense hostage situation unfolded in a cafe in Sydney's central business district.

A black flag bearing the Islamic declaration of faith was pressed against the cafe window by hostages, sparking a wave of speculation that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was behind the attack.

But the lone gunman - who died with two of his hostages at the end of the 16-hour siege - had no direct links to a terror group.

Man Haron Monis, a self-declared sheikh with a rapsheet that included murder, was a "lone wolf" who, though jolted into action by a radical and violent ideology, acted on his own.

The Sydney siege has thrown the spotlight on the lone-wolf terrorist and raises questions about how ready Singapore is to face such an attack on its shores.

There have been at most 120 true lone wolves in the last three decades of terrorism, says S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) associate professor Ahmed Salah Hashim.

He explains: "A true lone wolf is a self-radicalised individual with a political agenda but no direct links to any terrorist group. He is not part of a sleeper cell. He works alone, even if he is influenced by the ideas of a group."

The term "lone wolf" first gained traction in the 1990s, when white supremacists urged people to commit crimes alone or in small groups.

When Anders Breivik launched a spate of attacks in Norway that killed 77 people in 2011, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Teo Chee Hean, warned then that the lack of formal links to established terror organisations makes such lone-wolf terrorists difficult to detect and monitor.

Four years on, these concerns have resurfaced. While experts Insight spoke to this week say that lone wolves have not completely supplanted terrorist groups, they warn that these individuals - working in quiet isolation - pose a serious threat because identifying them is a challenge.

They are coming about as terror groups find themselves battered by heightened scrutiny, says Dr Bilveer Singh, who has studied terrorism in South-east Asia for the past 30 years.

"As terror groups have been targeted, it is a liability to be part of these groups," he explains.

A complex variety of motivations make these lone wolves tick.

For some, it is their flawed understanding of religion; others are fuelled by social and political grievances.

Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, for example, was an anti-industrialist. Meanwhile, Breivik claimed he killed out of "goodness, not evil".

Due to their scattered motivations, the lone wolves, experts agree, are particularly dangerous because they are almost impossible to detect.

Criminology professor Mark Hamm from Indiana State University, who has studied 98 cases of lone-wolf attacks in the United States, points out that the Internet - which has also been blamed for radicalising individuals - can also help weed out those plotting attacks of their own.

Lone wolves are likely to signal their intent online, he adds, via statements supporting radical ideology to their friends or family on social media, for instance.

Terror groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, meanwhile, are renewing calls for more lone-wolf attacks.

And though classical terrorist organisations - hierarchical structures with networks that span the globe - will remain, lone wolves will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come, say experts.

"Small groups and resilient networks have become new organisational paradigms, especially in the case of jihadist terrorism. Lone wolves are the product of this evolution and represent a sustainable trend," explains Mr Romain Quivooij, an associate research fellow who studies radicalisation at the Centre of Excellence for National Security at RSIS.

And these individuals will have a devastating effect on a society's psyche, he adds.

"The message conveyed by lone wolves, which can be expressed by 'We are among you and we will strike', is a strategic challenge."


“You have to have a balance between free society and security. You can't turn every place into a prison or a fortress.”

Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam


“The best way to counter the attacks of these ‘no-pattern pattern’ individuals is to have better community policing. Kicking down doors and raids can only do so much. The best way to prevent and pre-empt attacks is to get information from the ground.”

Mr Joseph Franco of the Centre of Excellence for National Security


“You have to give your members a positive impression of people of other religions, and these things must be done even before a crisis happens.”

Reverend Gabriel Liew

Strict gun and border controls help keep out arms
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

FOUR years ago, a Singaporean named Grace Lin wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page to complain that her elderly father was stopped from bringing flower fertiliser from Malaysia into Singapore.

The Customs authorities confiscated his fertiliser, and took down his personal details.

Such is the level of control exercised by the Singapore authorities over ingredients that could be used in homemade explosive devices, of which the ammonium nitrate found in some fertilisers is one.

This, and equally strict access to firearms, are major parts of Singapore's counter-terrorism strategy.

The type of armed terrorist attack first seen in Mumbai in 2008, and most recently in the massacre of 17 people in Paris last week, is thus exceedingly unlikely here, say experts.

In Singapore - which has some of the strictest gun-control laws in the world - anyone caught using an illegal firearm faces the death penalty.

Those found unlawfully possessing a gun or ammunition can be jailed between five and 10 years and given at least six strokes of the cane.

A licence is required for legal gun ownership in Singapore, and applicants must fulfil a series of strict requirements, including passing background checks delving into their criminal, medical and mental-health records. They must also pass a shooting proficiency test.

A 2007 study by Small Arms Survey, an independent research firm in Geneva, puts the rate of gun ownership in Singapore at about one gun per 200 people - among the lowest in the world.

The United States, with 88.8 privately-held guns per 100 people, topped the list of 178 countries surveyed.

Despite this, Singapore remains vulnerable to those determined to procure assault weapons.

Associate research fellow Joseph Franco of the Centre of Excellence for National Security recalls Jemaah Islamiah members acquiring weapons like assault rifles and precursor chemicals for explosives, like ammonium nitrate, from the Philippines for their failed plot against foreign missions here over a decade ago.

They tried smuggling them into the country through Indonesia, even stashing part of their stockpile in neighbouring Malaysia.

But things have changed. The internal security situation in Indonesia and the southern Philippines seems to have stabilised, he explains, adding that he doubts there is a threat of weapons flowing easily from these countries into Singapore.

Even so, he cautions: "It would suffice to say that, in general, the unresolved conflicts in Asean - such as in Mindanao (in the Philippines) and in southern Thailand - can act as 'ungoverned spaces' where terrorists can source for arms."

The determined terrorist need not have firearms or explosives to wreak havoc.

China, which has similarly few guns as in Singapore, has been roiled by incidents where attackers hack at civilians with watermelon knives, or simply drive a car into a crowd.

Weapons will never be hard to come by for the determined terrorist, notes counter-terrorism and political science expert Bilveer Singh: "The world is over-weaponised."

Moves to build social resilience serve S'pore well
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2015

A WORRY for any security agency is the effect a terrorist attack would have on social cohesion, but Singapore's long-term measures to maintain racial harmony will serve the country well, say experts.

"We asked ourselves 'how would our people react after a terrorist attack in Singapore? Especially if the perpetrators were home-grown?" said then Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng following the London suicide bombings in 2005.

The Government decided that the answer was building social resilience and, in 2006, it launched the Community Engagement Programme to build bonds and trust across communities, including religious groups.

The programme has tapped grassroots-level relationships established earlier by the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs). The IRCCs were formed after the first wave of Jemaah Islamiah arrests in Singapore in 2001, and regularly bring together community and religious leaders.

Regular meetings and tabletop simulation exercises since then mean that there is a coherent plan should there be an extremist attack here, religious and community leaders tell Insight.

Mr Jaspal Singh, a Sikh religious leader and member of Geylang Serai IRCC, says: "In the event of, say, a bomb blast, the various religious leaders will call for a meeting and make a press statement saying we do not condone or encourage such acts and that these are the doings of individuals, and not a directive given by a particular religion."

Echoing this, Reverend Gabriel Liew, a member of Kampong Glam IRCC, says that having respected leaders of the different religions standing together in solidarity and denouncing the act of terrorism will isolate the terrorists and show the public they do not represent whichever religion they may claim to be from.

Aside from high-visibility terror attacks, community leaders are also briefed on how to tackle smaller flare-ups that, if mishandled, may lead to racial or religious conflict, says Mr Lionel De Souza, secretary of Hougang IRCC.

Simulation exercises include scenarios such as what happens if someone accidentally reverses a vehicle and hits a congregation member at a place of worship, and how to defuse the tension should a large crowd then form, says Mr Singh.

"When things like that happen, sentiments may be aroused," he says.

"So when we meet up every few months, we discuss topics like this, and what we should do if what happened in Sydney or Paris happens in Singapore."

While there are public plans in the event of an attack, much of the work to prevent religious tension and divisions is done in private between religious leaders and their members, says Rev Liew. "When I know of Christians who are narrow-minded or angry, I tell them that that's not the way to practise our faith," he says. "You have to give your members a positive impression of people of other religions, and these things must be done even before a crisis happens."

Mr De Souza, who witnessed the communal riots in 1964 as a young police detective, says he is confident that such extensive violence is unlikely to be stirred up today - even in the event of a surprise attack - because Singaporeans are better prepared and educated on the importance of racial harmony.

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