Sunday, 17 July 2016

Singapore has to be prepared that terrorists may one day breach its safety net: PM Lee

With the spate of terror attacks around the world, Singapore cannot assume it will be spared
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor In Ulaanbaatar, The Sunday Times, 17 Jul 2016

The spate of terror attacks around the world - most recently in Nice, France, which left 84 dead and many more injured - underscores the severity of the terror threat, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday. And Singapore cannot assume it will be spared from an attack, he added. "We know that terrorists have the intention to attack Singapore. They have not succeeded so far, but one day they may breach our safety net and enter Singapore, so we need to be prepared."

Mr Lee was speaking to Singapore reporters on the last day of his first official visit to Mongolia, where he met the country's leaders and attended the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit.

When asked about last Thursday's attack in Nice, in which a 31-year-old man ploughed a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day, Mr Lee said the mode of attack was shocking but not surprising as terrorists have used vehicles to ram into crowds.

"You can prevent a bomber, you can prevent somebody who comes with a gun, but what do you do with somebody who takes a kitchen knife or somebody who takes a car or a truck?" he asked.

This is why it is important to combat the threat on multiple fronts - to stress the need to live in a peaceful society where people work with and trust one another, as well as to detect and do something about those who seem to be going the wrong way before they can cause harm, he said.

But recent attacks, including in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, mean Singapore also has to be prepared that "sooner or later, somebody will break through".

"We must know these things happen, they are bad, but we have to pick ourselves up and we must continue as one nation and life must carry on," Mr Lee said.

To this end, he added, Singapore has been working to deepen trust between different racial and religious groups, and the new SG Secure initiative seeks to rally Singaporeans to cope with an attack and stay united in its aftermath.

Such efforts began after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks on America, but are being renewed as the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) grows.

Mr Lee said: "The first time it happens, it will still be a shock, we must expect that. We just have to prepare as well as we can so that when it happens, we have the best chance of coming through and standing and not disintegrating."

He also spoke on terrorism at the ASEM leaders' retreat yesterday, a day after 51 Asian and European countries issued a joint statement condemning the recent attacks.

The meeting's chairman, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, reaffirmed ASEM leaders' resolve to combat terrorism financing and terror groups' abuse of the Internet.

Mr Lee, in his remarks to fellow leaders, called on them to "fight this threat together and cooperate more", and reiterated Singapore's support for international initiatives to combat terrorism.

The sharing of intelligence, he said, has helped Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia to foil terror plots and arrest numerous terrorists.

Countries have to cooperate to cut funding for groups such as ISIS, counter their radical ideology, and secure borders so terrorists and foreign fighters cannot travel, he said. Beyond this, "we have to encourage our societies to hold together and not discriminate and marginalise any community".

Society should also not give up on those who have been radicalised, he said, and should instead help them see the error in their thinking and help them reintegrate into mainstream life.

"Then, slowly but surely, we will win the war on terrorism."

Attack in Nice, France: Driver plows truck through Bastille Day crowd killing at least 84, more than 100 injured

Attack in Nice: Attacker 'not linked' to any militant group
ISIS claims responsibility for onslaught but French minister says man not on list of radicalised people
The Sunday Times, 17 Jul 2016

NICE (France) • The French authorities said the man who ploughed a truck through crowds watching Bastille Day fireworks in the Riviera city had no known connection to militant groups, even as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) yesterday claimed responsibility for the assault.

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian, was known to law enforcement for petty theft and domestic violence.

But he was not on any list of people known to be radicalised.

He "had not been known to the intelligence services because he did not stand out... by being linked with radical Islamic ideology," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said yesterday.

If he was a Islamist militant, he must have become radicalised very quickly, Mr Cazeneuve added.

Family members revealed that the attacker suffered from psychological problems.

Speaking in Msaken, eastern Tunisia, his father Mohamed Mondher said his son had suffered from depression and had "no links" to religion. "From 2002 to 2004, he had problems that caused a nervous breakdown. He would become angry and... would break anything he saw," he said.

His sister Rabeb said he had been seeing psychologists for several years before he left home for France in 2005.

Lahouaiej-Bouhlel rented a 19-tonne refrigerated truck and drove it along the city's beach promenade, plowing more than 2km into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on Thursday.

At least 84 people were killed and more than 200 injured.

"He carried out the operation in response to calls to target nationals of states that are part of the coalition fighting the Islamic State," said the news agency Amaq, which supports the militant group.

Police had arrested four more people linked to Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, as well as his estranged wife.

A resident of the apartment block where the family had lived until 18 months ago before they split up said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had an extreme reaction to his wife's request for a divorce after a violent argument.

"He defecated everywhere, he cut up his daughter's teddy bear and slashed the mattress,'' said the man, who asked not to be identified.

"I don't think there was a radicalisation issue. I think there was psychiatric problem," he said.

Top French anti-terror prosecutor Francois Molins said the attacker had a significant record of crime and violence that stretches back six years. In March, he was sentenced to six months in prison for assault with a weapon in an attack in January. It was not clear whether he had served any part of that sentence.

The motive of the truck rampage was also unclear as he did not leave behind a declaration of intent.

The attack was the third major assault in France in 18 months and anger is mounting over the country's security measures.

"We now realise that there was no protection for us," said Mr Karim Lourahri, 22, a butcher who witnessed the truck mow down several people.

Many questioned how the attacker could have swept past police checkpoints at a prominent event that clearly demanded high security.

Witnesses said there were barriers to prevent vehicles from entering the avenue but they were flimsy. Some said their bags were not checked for bombs.

French President Francois Hollande met with his defence and security chiefs, and Cabinet ministers yesterday.

A spokesman quoted him as saying that in the face of "these attempts to divide the country... we should remember the unity and cohesion of the country around our values".


'Impossible to prevent attacks like that on Nice'
Attacks using ordinary vehicles can be carried out by almost anyone, say European leaders and security chiefs
The Straits Times, 16 Jul 2016

BRUSSELS • European leaders and security chiefs have a sobering message after the Bastille Day killings in Nice: Such lone attacks using ordinary vehicles are nearly impossible to prevent and can be carried out by almost anyone.

"We have moved into a new era, and France will have to live with terrorism," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said yesterday morning after a Cabinet meeting led by President Francois Hollande.

His Belgian counterpart, Mr Charles Michel, said in Brussels - where Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants staged attacks in March and where they planned last November's Paris attacks - that "zero risk does not exist".

"We are now faced with a different modus operandi," he said in the Belgian capital which, like cities in France, is still on a state of high alert with troops and heavily armed police on the streets and on guard at major public events.

Belgium has anticipated such risks, Mr Michel said, and is ready to protect its own national day festivities next Thursday.

Tunisian-born Frenchman Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, with a record of violence but unknown to counter-terrorism agencies, drove a rented truck for 2km along the Promenade des Anglais seafront, mowing down revellers gathered there to watch a fireworks display.

Neighbours described the 31-year-old as a loner who never responded to their greetings.

One of them, Sebastien, said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel did not seem overtly religious, often dressed in shorts and sometimes wore work boots.

Of those interviewed, only one, a ground-floor resident, said she had some concerns about him, saying he was "a good-looking man who kept giving my two daughters the eye".

Tunisian security sources said Lahouaiej-Bouhlel came from the Tunisian town of Msaken, which he last visited four years ago.

He was not known by the Tunisian authorities to hold radical views, the sources said. He was married with three children, they added.

In striking the jewel of the French Riviera on a national holiday, the truck attack on Nice delivered a new blow to France's tourism sector already reeling from repeated terror attacks. Nice is the No. 2 destination in France behind Paris.

The attack was the third major strike against France in less than 18 months. It comes eight months after ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers attacked bars, restaurants, a concert hall and the national stadium in Paris, killing 130 people.

In January last year, 17 people were killed in another attack at various sites, including the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine.

Mr Georges Panayotis, head of the MKG hotel and tourism consultancy, expressed concern about the effect the repeated attacks were having on the industry.

"This is no longer a classic terrorism situation where a couple of months is enough following an attack for economic activity to recover," he said.

France, the world's top tourism destination, welcomed nearly 84.5 million visitors last year. But the number of tourists arriving on regular flights has fallen by 5.8 per cent since January, including by 11 per cent in Paris.


Chaos as truck mows down all in its path
The Straits Times, 16 Jul 2016

NICE • It was a lovely night in Nice, reporter Damien Allemand recalled. Thousands had thronged the seaside promenade that skirts the edge of the city, many faces tilted upwards to watch fireworks explode overhead in honour of France's national day. Light and music spilled from restaurants, cheers punctuated the bursts of fireworks.

Mr Allemand, a reporter for Nice Matin, a local newspaper, was about to leave when he heard the crack of gunshots cut through the revelry. A fraction of a second later, a huge white truck went roaring past. It ploughed into the crowds, as though it intended to hit as many people as possible.

"I saw bodies flying like bowling pins in its path. Heard sounds, howls that I will never forget," Mr Allemand wrote in a post on the website Medium.

The "truck of death", as he called it, passed just several metres from where he stood.

For a moment, he was frozen. People streamed past him, screaming, crying. He heard someone yell: "Get to shelter." Another pleaded: "Where is my son?"

Finally, he turned and ran.

Suddenly, everyone was running, according to witness accounts, still unsure of what was going on, but simply running because everyone else was.

"People were fleeing and shouting," Ms Maryam Violet, an Iranian journalist on vacation, told The Guardian newspaper. "People were shouting: 'It's a terrorist attack! It's a terrorist attack!' "

People ducked into any place of refuge they could find, any business or restaurant that was open. Others jumped across fences.

"We saw a guy basically throw his kids over a fence and then jump after them," Mr Ismali Khalidi told The Guardian.

Agence France-Presse correspondent Robert Holloway said he had to shield his face from flying debris as the attacker drove the truck more than 2km along the palm-fringed beachfront, mowing people down.

"It was absolute chaos," he said.

Moroccan university student Imad Dafaaou, who was holidaying in Nice, told ABC News that the truck barely missed him.

"It was running over people. Some people were trying to get out of the way. Some people were in shock. I started to run away. I was in shock. I couldn't even think. I was running. There was a bench in front of me, so I had to jump over it, so I jumped over it and fell over on a woman."

In a Facebook video that has been viewed 3,000 times, Mr Tarubi Wahid Mosta described how he had taken photos of the aftermath - children's toys lying abandoned; an empty pushchair.

"I almost stepped on a corpse, it was horrible. It looked like a battlefield," he said, trembling, his eyes red. "All these bodies and their families... they spent hours on the ground holding the cold hands of bodies dismembered by the truck. You can't even speak to them or comfort them."

When he finally went home, he took a victim's Yorkshire terrier dog with him.

Egyptian Nadar el Shafei told BFM television he initially thought the driver - identified as Tunisian-born Frenchman Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31 - had lost control.

"I was in the street. He stopped just in front of me after he (crushed) a lot of people," he said. "We were trying to speak to the driver to get him to stop.

"He looked nervous. There was a girl under the car, he smashed her. The guy next to me pulled her out," he said in broken English.

The driver then pulled out a gun and started shooting at police, who returned fire.

"They killed him and his head was out the window."

Photos from the scene showed the massive front window of the truck had at least 27 bullet holes.

On the promenade, blood pooled around bodies covered by blankets and foil sheets. Horror-struck people knelt by the bodies of the dead, while first responders tended to others. A Reuters photographer captured an image of a small figure covered in foil, a doll beside the body.

Mr Allande wrote that he wanted to stay and help, but "froze again".

"At that moment, I lost courage," he said. He left on his scooter as the ambulances began to arrive.

"This evening was horror."


Why France is the main focus for terrorists
The Sunday Times, 17 Jul 2016

PARIS • The attack in Nice hammered home a point made recently by the French domestic intelligence chief Patrick Calvar: France faces "the greatest threat" of any nation in Europe.

After three devastating attacks in 18 months - and many other attempts, organised and opportunistic - the country has emerged as a focus for Islamist terror, The Financial Times said yesterday.

The question is why.

One reason is what French President Francois Hollande describes as the state of war between his country and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

France is the European nation that has most vigorously backed military action against ISIS. And as its self-proclaimed caliphate is pushed back in Syria and Iraq, striking back against its enemies has become ever more central to ISIS strategy, said the FT.

France first targeted ISIS on Sept 19, 2014. Four days later, the group's chief propagandist Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called for reprisals. Three months later, the first ISIS-linked attacks in France began: three policemen were stabbed in Tours and two vehicles rammed into crowds of pedestrians in Dijon and Nantes.

Beyond revenge for French bombings of ISIS, other deeper factors have increased France's vulnerability, the FT reported.

The country is a softer target than either the United States or Britain - the other two big Western militaries fighting the Islamic militants. The US is too far away for ISIS to strike easily and Britain has a more naturally controllable border, said the newspaper.

France is also easiest for the militants to infiltrate. At least 1,700 French nationals have gone to fight for ISIS, against around 800 Britons and 200 Americans.

"The problem is not just those that go. It's their families. Their friends. It's all the people that have been left behind by them, who might be influenced by them, or who might be angered when they die or don't come back," the newspaper quoted a British security official as saying.

"It's a hinterland of potential radicals who suddenly have emotional skin in the game," he said.

ISIS has been able to galvanise radical networks with greater success in France than anywhere else, said the report.

Its aggressive secularism makes it "a particularly appropriate symbolic target" where the ISIS message of a civilisational conflict can have the most resonance.

ISIS-aligned networks outside France also play a big role. The biggest recruiting ground for foreign fighters is the francophone Maghreb. At least 6,000 Tunisians and 1,200 Moroccans have joined the black banners, according to security consultancy Soufan group.

Truck rampage: Was it because of security lapse?

The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2016

NICE • As French investigators try to piece together what drove Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel to such extreme violence, many people in Nice and around the world are asking how, in a country under a state of emergency since November, a lone driver could so easily flout basic traffic rules and then race unimpeded through throngs of people gathered to watch a Bastille Day fireworks display.

As in previous years, security forces, worried about a possible terrorist attack on France's national day, set up barriers to block traffic on the Promenade des Anglais, a boulevard that stretches eastwards from the city's airport to its old port.

But the barriers, crowd-control devices made of hollow metal tubes, started far to the east of where Bouhlel entered the boulevard. The number of police officers on duty that night was more than usual, but nearly all were concentrated in the sealed-off area by the old port, where most people traditionally gather to watch the fireworks.

This left Bouhlel nearly 2km of open road on which to crush revellers outside the heavily guarded spectator zone - and build up speed before he reached the first police barriers. Such was the 19-tonne truck's speed that when it first encountered any obstruction by police, "it would have required a wall of concrete" to stop it, regional government official Anthony Borre told local television.

"Why was he allowed to drive so far without anyone bothering him?" asked Mr Pierre Roux, who watched the truck plough through the crowd from his balcony. "This is a terrible screw-up," he said.

How big a screw-up is still being deciphered. It is not clear, for instance, whether police tried to shoot out the tyres before being able to shoot the driver, or whether smaller cities around France prepared for the possibility of a large-scale terrorist attack with the same vigilance as Paris, the scene of two major attacks last year.

There, in stages starting early on France's July 14 national day, police snapped in place a security perimeter extending many blocks from the fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. They closed even major thoroughfares to vehicles, including scooters, and set up checkpoints.

The question of whether more could have been done to prevent 84 people from being killed has been taken up by local leaders on the French Riviera, most of whom represent right-wing forces opposed to the Socialist government in Paris.

France's Socialist government has responded angrily to such criticism, pointing out that nobody expected a rampage by truck and that the attacker had never popped up on the radar of intelligence services.


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