Saturday, 6 August 2016

Plot to attack Marina Bay with rocket from Batam foiled

Six terror cell members nabbed; leader was planning attack on Singapore
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2016

The terror threat facing Singapore took on a more menacing face yesterday after six militants were arrested in Batam.

Police said their leader had been planning a rocket attack on Marina Bay together with a Syrian-based Indonesian ISIS militant. The six men in Batam had been kept under watch for a while before they were arrested by Indonesian police in an early-morning raid.

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Facebook: "Our security agencies have been coordinating closely with the Indonesian authorities to monitor the activities of this group and to apprehend those involved.

"We are grateful for the good cooperation by the Indonesian authorities and their actions to apprehend the group."

In response to this threat and the prevailing security situation, police and other agencies have been stepping up inland and border security measures, said Mr Teo. "This development highlights the seriousness of the terrorism threat to Singapore," he said.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said the six "were thinking of attacking Marina Bay with rockets", and "this shows how our enemies are thinking of different ways of attacking us".

He drew a parallel with Molenbeek, the Belgian town from which terrorists planned their assault on Paris last November and, in a series of coordinated attacks, killed 130 people. "There are several possible Molenbeeks around us from which attacks can be launched on Singapore. These include the Riau Islands," he said.

The islands are a short boat ride from Singapore and include Batam, where the six members of a little-known terror cell called Katibah GR, or Cell GR, were picked up yesterday by Indonesia's elite counter-terrorism unit Densus 88 along with the local police.

Five of those arrested work in electronics factories and one at a bank. They are between 19 and 46 years old. Their leader, Gigih Rahmat Dewa, 31, was nabbed at his house, where he lived with his wife and baby.

Indonesia's national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told reporters in Jakarta that Gigih "had planned to launch a rocket from Batam to Marina Bay Singapore".

He had planned this with Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian militant believed to have been fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Police said Gigih took orders from Bahrun, and among their plans was to attack public areas.

The two men were also part of the larger terror narrative unfolding in Indonesia. The cell was suspected of harbouring Uighurs, the Muslim ethnic group from China, some of whose members have joined extremists in Indonesia. It had also received funds to send fighters to Syria.

Mr Shanmugam said that in addition to lone wolves and radicalised groups, the terrorist threat to Singapore now also came from those seeking to come in through its checkpoints and those who would try to launch attacks from just outside.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said: "We should assume that there may be more plots, other terror cells on the lookout for ways, and new munitions to penetrate our defences. Terrorism is a global problem and no country is immune."

Terror arrests in Batam

Singapore was aware of terror cell: Shanmugam
DPM Teo says police and other agencies have stepped up security measures in Singapore as well as at its borders
By Pearl Lee and Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2016

Singapore was aware of the group of militants based in Batam who were planning to attack Marina Bay, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

The news that such a plot was being hatched so close to Singapore's borders was no surprise, he added in reply to media queries after the Indonesian police arrested six members of the militant cell in Batam.

Mr Shanmugam had, in recent months, raised concerns about terrorists targeting Singapore from abroad, and who could try to enter the country or locate themselves just outside the country.

"Our small size increases these risks," he said yesterday.

Apart from plotting the attack, the cell's leader, 31-year-old Gigih Rahmat Dewa, was helping Indonesian fighters travel to Syria and was receiving funds from Syria-based militant Bahrun Naim for attacks.

Both Mr Shanmugam and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security, noted that Singapore's security agencies and their Indonesian counterparts had coordinated closely to monitor the activities of the group and apprehend those involved.

The ministers said they were grateful for Indonesia's cooperation and enforcement action.

Mr Teo said on Facebook that the police and other agencies have stepped up security measures in Singapore as well as at its borders.

"This development highlights the seriousness of the terrorism threat to Singapore, and the importance of the SG Secure national movement," he added.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will launch SG Secure next month. It aims to mobilise Singaporeans to be more conscious of security, respond to a terror attack and stay united as a society after an attack.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post that the arrests are a reminder that Singapore has to stay vigilant and keep improving its defence systems.

"Since 9/11, the SAF has paid very close attention to aerial threats and has upgraded our air defence systems," he added, stressing the need for people to stay united.

Security analysts like Mr Jasminder Singh of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research said the arrests are a reminder of the need to stay vigilant in the face of the terror threat.

Mr Singh said that while the actual risk of a successful rocket attack on Marina Bay is debatable, the threat of terrorism remains real given Singapore's strong stance against terrorism and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

Referring to remarks Mr Lee made on an official visit to the United States this week, he said: "As Prime Minister Lee mentioned, Singapore being a target is not new - whether or not we are part of the US-led coalition against ISIS - because of what we represent: A harmonious multiracial and multi- religious country."

The arrests underline the importance of intelligence sharing among governments in the region, he noted. But a population that is alert to suspicious and radical activity is also needed to deter an attack.

This is why Ms Susan Sim, vice-president for Asia at security consultancy The Soufan Group, said SG Secure is crucial.

"It is a way to teach us to practise situational awareness so we don't remain complacent or become paranoid, but can contribute meaningfully to keeping ourselves and everyone else around us safe," she said.

Singapore's low crime rate and high level of safety may lead some to assume that attacks may not happen here. But Ms Sim noted that recent incidents in Germany and France, where attackers used knives and a truck respectively, show "the modus operandi of a terrorist is limited only by the imagination".

"You don't need sophisticated tools to launch an attack," she said.

Reverend Bobby Lee, secretary of the Geylang Serai Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, said people need to realise that today's peace "has to be guarded".

"The public needs to realise that it is not just the police's duty to protect us. We can't think that we'll just leave such matters to the experts," he said. "We have to have fortitude, be aware and remain vigilant."

Notorious militant's link to arrests
By Arlina Arshad,Indonesia Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2016

Indonesian militant Muhammad Bahrun Naim, whose name came up after yesterday's arrests in Batam, has been in the news since 2010, when he was arrested for illegal possession of ammunition.

He is now said to be fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the terrorist organisation.

The 32-year-old is believed to be a leader among militants in the Katibah Nusantara, a South-east Asian military unit under ISIS that recruits militants from Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of the region.

Yesterday, the Indonesian authorities said that Bahrun and Gigih Rahmat Dewa, the leader of a Batam cell who was arrested, had plans to attack Marina Bay in Singapore.

In March, Singapore's Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in a speech that Bahrun was well-known to security agencies in the region, and was actively encouraging militants to launch attacks in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

In November 2010, Indonesian police's elite counter-terrorism unit, Densus 88, arrested Bahrun and seized hundreds of bullets from his home.

He was jailed for 21/2 years. The court, however, found insufficient evidence to pursue terror charges.

He disappeared after he served his time, and police believed he went to Syria. But he remains in close contact with domestic terror cells and militants in Indonesia.

Bahrun is from Pekalongan in Central Java, and worked as a computer technician and ran an Internet cafe in the city of Solo. Gigih is from Solo, also in Central Java.

Police believe Bahrun masterminded the brazen attack in Jakarta in January which killed eight people. A police spokesman said at the time that Bahrun had sent money back to Indonesia to finance the attack.

Bahrun was believed to have also taught Nur Rohman, the suicide bomber who blew himself up near a police station in Solo on July 5, to build bombs. A police officer was injured in the attack.

Indonesian police spokesman Agus Rianto yesterday said Bahrun had sent money to Gigih to finance radical activities. "Gigih was to carry out attacks on several places on Bahrun's order," he added. These include suicide attacks targeting public places and police offices.

In a Telegram exchange with Reuters news agency on Nov 24 last year, Bahrun said there were more than enough ISIS supporters to "carry out an action" in Indonesia. "Just waiting for the right trigger," he reportedly said.

Not long after that Telegram exchange, intelligence officials began to pick up talk in social messaging chatrooms that an attack on Indonesia was imminent.

In the same exchange, Bahrun said he enjoyed life in Syria.

"I move around, depending on where our emir orders us to go. It's good here in Syria.

"There's electricity, accommodation, water, and it's free. The services provided by them are good, cheaper than in Indonesia."

Ringleader of little-known Cell GR
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2016

Suspected Indonesian militant Gigih Rahmat Dewa is the ringleader of a little-known local terror cell called Katibah GR, or "Cell GR".

Indonesian police arrested him - along with his wife and baby - as well as five other cell members in raids on various locations on Batam Island yesterday.

Police said that besides having had plans "to launch a rocket from Batam to Marina Bay Singapore", he was also said to have received and channelled funds for radical activities, and helped Indonesians make the trip to Syria, via Turkey, to fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

The 31-year-old Solo native is said to be working for an elec- tronics factory in Batam. He has been living in a house belonging to his older brother on the island since 2011.

The family kept to themselves and did not attend community gatherings, a neighbour, Ms Sundari, told reporters yesterday.

She also said the police told her they have seized some items from his house, including "a bomb which has already been assembled".

Marina Bay rocket attack plot from Batam 'not to be taken lightly'
Experts say it is a 'real possibility' and if successful, would have been a 'big achievement' for terrorists
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2016

News of an Indonesian militant plot to fire a rocket to hit Singapore's Marina Bay may seem like a far-fetched idea to some, but terror analysts say it is a "real possibility" and a threat not to be taken lightly.

And if the leader of the little- known terror group, Katibah GR or "Cell GR", from the holiday island of Batam had succeeded in doing so, it would have been a "big achievement" for supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the region.

"Singapore is well known for being very careful and has very tight security. Terrorists hope to break it down. The attack, if launched successfully, would result in very strong resonance," terrorism expert and Aceh university lecturer Al Chaidar told The Straits Times. "It would be an important win, like the attack on the World Trade Center in the US."

The group, led by 31-year-old factory worker Gigih Rahmat Dewa, comprises more than a dozen people and is "fairly new", having been set up around 2014, Mr Al Chaidar said.

Analysts told The Straits Times that the group is linked to radical ideologue Aman Abdurrahman, who police said had a hand in plotting the Jan 14 terrorist attack in Jakarta, which killed eight people.

Aman was long suspected to have a role in the attack on the capital which was carried out by four militants under Indonesia's Jemaah Anshar Khilafah terror network.

Indonesian police said yesterday that Gigih and a Syria-based Indonesian militant, Bahrun Naim, had plans to attack Marina Bay in Singapore. Bahrun officially pledged himself to ISIS in 2014 and travelled to Syria last year after becoming a disciple of master recruiter Aman.

Indonesia's security forces are focusing on domestic terror networks and smaller militant cells trying to take over the mantle from Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

Analysts noted that some of the group members rounded up are young - with the youngest being 19 - so they are "definitely not" recruits from JI.

They added that they were "surprised" to learn that the Batam cell was plotting to attack Singapore as its interest was really to fight alongside ISIS in Syria.

However, Mr Al Chaidar said rumours have swirled that Gigih's group planned to hijack a boat and launch a homemade missile towards the Marina Bay area from sea, he said.

"They are not militants talking big. They do have the expertise since they have had industrial and technical jobs before. It's not impossible," he said.

Early last month, two chilling letters were sent by local mail to the Singapore offices of ferry operators Horizon Fast Ferry and Batam Fast, by a militant group called Kelompok Islam Insaf, threatening to strike popular tourist destinations such as Tanjung Pinang and the Nagoya Hill mall in Batam.

Indonesian police in the Riau Islands said a week later that the bomb threat no longer posed any immediate danger and lowered terror alert levels. That was likely how the police uncovered the Batam cell, Mr Al Chaidar said.

Mr Taufik Andrie, a terrorism expert from the Institute for International Peace Building, told The Straits Times that Batam is a "hub" or gathering spot for Indonesian militants wanting to join the battle in Syria. Gigih's cell acts as a "connector", helping them to make the trip illegally through Malaysia and Singapore.

He said Singapore is being targeted as it is considered to be "part of a global coalition against ISIS, even if the Singapore Government did not send people to directly fight in Syria".

He said "it has been a while" since he last heard about plots to attack Singapore. The last time was in 2002, when the Singapore authorities revealed that Yishun MRT station had been the target of a bomb plot by a terrorist cell.

Mr Taufik said he has not heard of terrorists wanting to launch an attack by firing a rocket, whether to Singapore or anywhere in Indonesia.

He said it is unlikely that a rocket could "fly across" from the Batam mainland to Singapore - whether hand-held or mounted on a vehicle - due to the distance of some 25km. But he warned that an attack from sea is "highly possible".

"We must remain vigilant and alert. We cannot underestimate them. After all, they are extremists. If they really want to do it, they will put in the effort," he said.

"Every terrorist threat is important," he added.

Analysts said the authorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore must step up joint sea patrols in the common waterways, as well as secure illegal ports in remote areas such as Aceh. Regular spot checks must also be carried out on boats.

Indonesia has been the target of several terror threats in recent months, including lately from the East Indonesian Mujahidin extremist group.

'Military-grade rocket needed' to hit Singapore from Batam
By Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2016

Hitting Singapore from Batam would have required a military- grade rocket and complex calculations, said a military observer.

Though it is not known what kind of rockets the suspects planned to use, weapons and equipment editor Kelvin Wong of military publication IHS Jane's told The Straits Times they would likely have needed a military-grade rocket able to travel the distance of around 25km between the Indonesian island and Singapore. If they were building their own rocket, fine calculations would have been required.

"Building a rocket requires a high level of physics," he said. "There are also quite a lot of variables they need to account for - like wind direction, the launch angle, how much propellant to put in the rocket."

Given the distance to Singapore, the suspects would also have needed rockets more powerful than the homemade Qassam ones fired by Hamas and Palestinian militants at Israel which have a maximum range of about 12km.

Reaching Singapore from Batam would require more powerful weaponry such as Katyusha-style, Grad and Chinese WS-1E rockets.

But S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies research fellow Wu Shang-su highlighted the possibility of attackers launching a rocket from a boat nearer to Singapore, possibly putting Marina Bay within range.

Batam's terror links
The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2016

August 2015

Dwi Djoko Wiwoho, director of the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board's licensing office in the Riau Islands, and his wife leave their house in Batam to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

He was to return to work from leave on Sept 1.

February 2016

Four Indonesian followers of radical ideologue Aman Abdurrahman are deported from Singapore.

They had planned to use Batam and Bintan islands as transit points for others heading to the Middle East to join ISIS.

July 12, 2016

Indonesian police lower the terror alert levels in the Riau Islands after raising it following a bomb threat the previous week. A little-known militant group, Kelompok Islam Insaf, had sent two letters by local mail to the Singapore offices of ferry operators Horizon Fast Ferry and Batam Fast on July 4, threatening to strike tourist destinations such as Tanjung Pinang, Nagoya Hill mall in Batam, and key ports in Batam and Bintan.

Mid-July 2016

Indonesian intelligence is alerted that several Uighurs, a Turkic-Muslim ethnic group in China's western region of Xinjiang, have entered the Riau Islands province. Uighur militants have been known to link up with extremist groups in Indonesia.

Aug 5, 2016

Indonesian police arrest six suspected militants in Batam.

The purported leader of the cell had plans to use a rocket to attack Marina Bay.

Militants 'looking at various ways to attack Singapore'
Republic working constantly with regional partners to detect, deter threats: Shanmugam
By Charissa Yong, The Sunday Times, 7 Aug 2016

Radicals who target Singapore are serious about planning an attack, and will look for different ways to do so, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said.

And the authorities have zero tolerance for those who harbour such thoughts, and constantly work with partners in neighbouring countries to detect and deter such threats.

"What you saw being foiled in Batam, this is the nature of things to come," he said yesterday.

"It's not going to go away, and we need to get it right, every single time. The terrorists only need to get it right once to make a statement."

He was speaking to reporters at a constituency event a day after Indonesia arrested six members of a terror cell in Batam, whose leader had been planning a rocket attack on Marina Bay together with ISIS militant Bahrun Naim.

Mr Shanmugam said that cooperation between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to combat terrorism was good and had to continue, and he will travel to Bali this week for a regional security conference.

Yesterday, security in Batam - a 45-minute ferry ride from HarbourFront - was stepped up.

Indonesian police continued tracking down other members of the group, which was set up in 2014 and called itself Katibah GR.

Their leader Gigih Rahmat Dewa, 31, who was among the six nabbed on Friday, had received funds from Bahrun Naim, a leading recruiter for Indonesians fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Indonesian police had said.

Mr Shanmugam said that from time to time, Singapore gets reports and intelligence from regional partners about plans to attack and infiltrate Singapore. He did not elaborate, but added: "What Singaporeans need to understand is that the people who want to do us harm are pretty serious, and they will look for many different ways of doing it."

Different types of plans are being thought of and hatched, he said, adding there are places not far from Singapore "where people can come together and plan to attack us".

He outlined three main sources of threats to Singapore.

One, people who gather just outside Singapore and attack the country or plan an attack from there.

Two, people who enter Singapore to stage an attack here. The minister noted that some 200 million people pass through Singapore's borders every year.

Three, home-grown radicalised individuals. Recent attacks in London and Nice showed how knives and vehicles could be used to cause death.

This is why the authorities are constantly looking out for threats, working with regional partners, and picking up individuals within Singapore - even if they are thinking of going abroad to fight.

More Singaporeans are also aware of the risks of an attack, he added, citing how they were signing up for emergency preparedness workshops - including one in Toa Payoh West yesterday where they learnt first aid skills and witnessed a simulated attack by gunmen.

"The message is getting through, but we need to do much more," Mr Shanmugam added. More such programmes will be held over the next two years to train at least one member from each of the one million households, he said.

It was a message underlined by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at a National Day dinner in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

"All of us can play an active role to stay alert and prepared, and be ready to respond. In peacetime, we must build up our social resilience, so that we can bounce back as one united community should an attack occur," he said last night.

Police scour Batam for remnants of terror cell
Fewer than 10 remaining members being tracked down, say Indonesian police
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Sunday Times, 7 Aug 2016

Indonesian police are scouring Batam island for other militants from a little-known terror cell, a day after the arrest of six members including its leader who was planning to fire a rocket into Singapore's Marina Bay.

National police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told The Sunday Times yesterday that police are tracking down "fewer than 10" remaining members of the Katibah GR (Cell GR), which was formed in 2014.

Police had been monitoring the activities of its leader Gigih Rahmat Dewa, 31, since last year, when he and Syria-based Indonesian militant Muhammad Bahrun Naim hatched a plan to fire a missile into Marina Bay, he said. "He had not set his exact target yet; it was still in the planning stage. We are now trying to gather physical evidence of his plan," the spokesman added.

Indonesian police rounded up the six men, aged 19 to 46, on Friday in early-morning raids for harbouring suspected Uighur militants.

Gigih was also suspected of receiving and channelling funds for radical activities and facilitating Indonesians to travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group.

Mr Boy Rafli said bomb-making materials had been recovered after the arrests. "There were no sophisticated arms confiscated, only bomb-making materials," he told Reuters.

The group, who are being held in Batam, will be flown to Jakarta for questioning. A police source told The Sunday Times that one of them was released yesterday due to lack of evidence. Madam Desi Fitrianti told reporters in Batam yesterday that police had released her son, 19-year-old Muhammad Tegar Sucianto. "Police questioned my son about his friends, but clearly he knew nothing," she said.

In response to this terror threat and the prevailing security situation, police and other agencies in Singapore have been stepping up inland and border security measures, said Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Friday.

Mr Boy Rafli said vital facilities in Batam were being secured. He added that Indonesian and Singapore police "always communicate and share information", including on the latest arrest.

Police stated that the men nabbed had said Katibah GR stood for Katibah Gonggong Rebus, or Boiled-Snails Cell. The media had assumed that GR referred to its leader Gigih Rahmat. Boiled sea snails are a popular seafood dish in Batam.

Mr Ansyaad Mbai, former chief of Indonesia's influential anti-terror agency, said its name is an indication of how militant groups in Indonesia have become splintered and divided, and the members "could care less about being part of a big-named network" such as Jemaah Islamiah. "These groups are fluid and no longer solid like in the past. They are ad hoc and could be formed by a small group of people who share the same ideology and extreme mindset," he told The Sunday Times.

"They sympathise with Muslims who are oppressed overseas. And whoever has fought there in Syria, whoever is the most brutal or has money, that person is idolised and becomes the leader," Mr Ansyaad added. "The Indonesian militants now can't distinguish Jemaah Islamiah from Al-Qaeda or ISIS. To them, these groups are the same."

1 of 6 men arrested in Batam anti-terror raids released

By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2016

One of the six men arrested in Batam last Friday for militant activities has been released.

Yesterday, 19-year-old Muhammad Tegar Sucianto told reporters in Batam that he was let go as he was not the "target of capture".

Mr Tegar, whom police described as a factory worker, said that he had joined a meeting of the terror cell in 2013. This, he said, was at the insistence of a friend, who was among those arrested last Friday and remains in custody.

Indonesian police said the leader of the cell, Gigih Rahmat Dewa, had planned to fire a rocket from Batam into Singapore's Marina Bay. Gigih is said to have planned this with Syria-based ISIS militant Bahrun Naim, who left Indonesia last year.

Mr Tegar said that, in 2013, he could not wait to leave the meeting of the cell, which called itself Katibah Gonggong Rebus or Boiled- Snails Cell. "I felt really awkward and uncomfortable," he said.

The men at the meeting did not know one another, said Mr Tegar, but had interacted via WhatsApp and Blackberry Messenger.

Indonesian police and analysts say that social media and mobile messaging applications have enabled new, small groups like the Batam cell to form.

But these new media forms of communication have also allowed the authorities to quash them.

Police investigations found that the members of the Batam cell had been radicalised over social media, specifically using Facebook, Reuters news agency reported.

Friend's extremist talk made me uneasy, says man released after Batam anti-terror raids

Teen released after Batam anti-terror raids says his friend tried getting him to join cell
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2016

Whenever his good friend of six years told him stories about suicide bombings, 19-year-old Muhammad Tegar Sucianto felt uneasy.

When that friend, Hadi Gusti Yanda, 20, tried to cajole him into joining a terror group called Katibah Gonggong Rebus, or Boiled-Snails Cell, he decided he had enough.

"All these radical stories about suicide bombings didn't make sense to me. He asked me to join, but I refused," Mr Tegar told reporters yesterday.

He was among six suspected militants arrested in anti-terror raids by Indonesian police last Friday, but was released the same evening as he was not "the target of capture", he said. His friend Hadi remains in police custody.

The group's ringleader, Gigih Rahmat Dewa, 31, is facing multiple charges, including one of plotting to fire a rocket from Batam to hit Singapore's Marina Bay and another of aiding Indonesians to go to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.

Mr Tegar said he was persuaded by Hadi to attend the cell's first meeting some time in 2013.

"Hadi told me that nobody there knew one another. They only communicated via chat groups in Whats- App and Blackberry Messenger."

However, he found that the group talked only about religious issues which did not interest him, he said.

"I felt really awkward and uncomfortable. I told him (Hadi) I wanted to go home as soon as possible."

After that, Hadi stopped talking about the group's activities.

Mr Tegar told reporters that he and Hadi loved watching movies and attending metal music concerts together. They even worked at the same factory in Batam. But he noticed his friend had changed in the past three years.

"He prayed more often. Of course, I was happy to see that. I told him it's okay if he taught me to pray as long as he stayed out of the group," he said.

Mr Tegar said he had no clue the group was involved in terror activities or was planning to launch a rocket targeting Singapore until last Friday, when a police car stopped the two of them as they headed to work. Mr Tegar had gone to Hadi's house to give him a ride on his motorcycle as Hadi's own motorbike had broken down.

Police blindfolded and handcuffed them before taking them to the Brimob special police headquarters for questioning. When they arrived, Hadi was taken away while he was made to wait in the car, Mr Tegar said.

"The two police officers seemed more friendly towards me. They even said sorry when they arrested me," he said. He was released that evening after questioning.

Mr Tegar's mother, Ms Desi Fitrianti, 43, told reporters that the two young men were close friends who loved going to concerts. Hadi often visited their home.

When reporters visited Hadi's home, his father declined to be interviewed.

Terrorism analysts have said that new extremist cells like the Katibah Gonggong Rebus illustrate how the militant network in Indonesia has become loose and fragmented, and could be formed by a small number of individuals.

Terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail, founder of the Institute of International Peace Building, told The Straits Times that these small groups are hard to detect and that they use social media and mobile messaging to interact with one another.

An Indonesian police spokesman told Reuters news agency that the Batam cell's Facebook posts gave police the breakthrough on the plot to strike Singapore.

"Their terrorist action plans were in Facebook," he said, without giving details.

What also gave Gigih away was his new profile picture on the Line messaging app featuring a banner pledging "Indonesian support and solidarity for ISIS", Reuters said.

No rocket found, but Batam suspects had firearms training

By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2016

Indonesian police have not found the rocket that the leader of a Batam terror cell had wanted to fire at Singapore's Marina Bay, but said the men had training in handling firearms and had also set up a command structure.

Riau Islands police chief Sambudi Gusdian told reporters in Batam yesterday that preliminary investigations showed that Katibah GR - or "Cell GR" - led by Gigih Rahmat Dewa had conducted "routine firearms training" in the forests of Nongsa, in northern Batam.

Six suspects from the little- known group were arrested in an anti-terror swoop last Friday. One of them, 19-year-old Muhammad Tegar Sucianto, has since been released as police did not find any evidence linking him to the cell.

Brigadier-General Sambudi said that the members each had a specific role.

Gigih, a 31-year-old factory worker, was the "amir", or commander.

Trio Syafrido, 46, acted as the "field coordinator", Hadi Gusti Yanda, 20, was the "treasurer", while Eka Saputra, 35, and Tarmidzi, 21, were "weapon assemblers".

Brig-Gen Sambudi said the police were still studying how far the plan to attack Singapore had progressed.

"The order for the attack could well have been given to this group in Batam, but it could be carried out by other groups."

He added that the Singapore authorities "have requested cooperation with Indonesian police to uncover the network" to maintain security in the region.

In Jakarta, national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar said yesterday that "no physical rocket or bomb" had been found, only bomb-making materials.

However, he warned against underestimating the group, which has been active for about two years.

The cell members, he said, had received "online training" to build the rocket from Indonesian militant Bahrun Naim.

Bahrun fled the country last year and is now believed to be fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria.

"They are ISIS. They are ISIS sympathisers and, since they are affiliated with Bahrun Naim, they are clearly related to ISIS," Mr Boy Rafli added.

He said Bahrun had used Facebook chats to rally Indonesians to join the battle in Syria, recruit cell members and send "instructions long-distance".

Bahrun also used social media to teach them "how to carry out terror attacks, assemble firearms, make explosives, and build that rocket".

"We are now trying to confirm if they had built the explosives for the attack... on Marina Bay Singapore, like they had planned through their electronic communication," Mr Boy Rafli added.

The five men remain in police custody in Batam for questioning, and will be taken to Jakarta later.

Batam police are carrying out more raids on the group's "safe houses", and are also trying to determine the extent of Gigih's network.

Police seize weapons from Batam terror suspects' homes

By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Sunday Times, 10 Aug 2016

Indonesian police have named five men from a Batam terror group, including its leader who plotted to fire a rocket into Singapore's Marina Bay, as suspects in terror activities.

They also seized weapons, including a bow-and-arrow set, an air rifle and airsoft guns, from their homes.

The bow-and-arrow set, several bank books, cash, a camera and personal documents were confiscated from alleged mastermind Gigih Rahmat Dewa's house.

An airsoft gun modified to resemble an AK-47 assault rifle was found hidden in the attic of the house belonging to another cell member, Eka Saputra.

Police also took an air rifle, an airsoft gun, and a notebook and a computer's central processing unit from the house of another suspect, Trio Syafrido.

All five men belong to a little- known terror cell called Katibah GR, or "Cell GR", national police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told reporters yesterday. They were arrested in anti-terror raids last Friday.

The men, aged 20 to 46, are accused of sheltering suspected Uighur militants. Gigih also allegedly received and channelled funds for radical activities and aided Indonesians to go to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group.

"The digital team is now examining data which might contain (electronic) conversations among the group members," said Mr Boy Rafli. He said the men are still being held in Batam, as police continue to gather more physical evidence and analyse the extent of the group's network.

"The members have not opened up to us yet. We must understand that we cannot simply solve everything here and now," he said.

"There's something that they are still hiding from us," he added. "We are still investigating and are trying our best."

Indonesia today kicks off a counter-terrorism conference in Nusa Dua, Bali, which will discuss how to curb cross-border terrorism and radicalism and strengthen international cooperation.

Vice-President Jusuf Kalla is expected to deliver a keynote speech at the International Meeting on Counter-Terrorism, which is jointly organised with Australia.

Singapore's Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam will be among 300 representatives from 21 countries attending the meeting.

Batam terror cell held training in public near housing estate: Police

Members avoided suspicion by gathering in nearby field to practise handling weapons
By Arlina Arshad, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Sunday Times, 12 Aug 2016

The Batam terror cell whose leader was plotting to fire a rocket into Singapore's Marina Bay avoided suspicion by training openly with replica guns in a field near a housing estate.

Its five members, including leader Gigih Rahmat Dewa, 31, would gather in a field in Nongsa district to practise handling weapons, Batam district police chief Helmy Santika told The Straits Times by phone yesterday.

The little-known cell is called Katibah GR, or "Cell GR".

"Unlike other terror groups which train in the forests, they exercised and practised handling airsoft guns (a type of replica gun) in a field near a housing estate," he said.

"In that way, people were not suspicious of them."

The new details emerged after police confirmed that the five suspects had been flown to Jakarta on Tuesday, four days after their arrest, for further investigations.

Commissioner Helmy said all evidence, such as weapons seized in raids, had also been sent to Jakarta. "They (the five men) were tightly guarded by police in Riau as well as from Densus 88, all of them fully armed," he said, referring to the country's elite counter- terrorism police unit.

Separately, national police spokesman Agus Rianto told The Straits Times that the men will be questioned by Densus 88 investigators for involvement in terror.

Police are continuing to track down other members of Gigih's cell on the island as well as in other parts of Indonesia, he added.

The five Batam men, aged 20 to 46, are accused of sheltering two suspected Uighur militants.

Gigih also allegedly received and channelled funds for radical activities and aided Indonesians to go to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group.

Mr Helmy also revealed yesterday that one of the Uighurs, identified only as Doni, had entered Batam from Singapore by sea around last March or April. He was deported to China after his arrest.

"We are not sure how he got to Singapore, whether he had used a fake passport or through illegal means," he said.

He also said Batam police have met the Singapore authorities to work out "more intensive cooperation and exchange of information".

"We want to make sure people here feel secure, not only Batam residents, but also the many Singaporeans here," he said.

Police have so far seized bomb- making materials and weapons from the homes of the suspects. These included a bow-and-arrow set, two airsoft guns, one of which had been modified to resemble an AK-47 assault rifle, and an air rifle.

Police said previously that the cell members had received online training via Facebook chats from Syria-based Indonesian militant Bahrun Naim to "assemble firearms, make explosives and build that rocket".

They also said the men had received training in handling firearms and set up a command structure, with Gigih appointed the group's "amir", or commander.

* Plotters' plan: Strike Singapore from Batam hill
Terror suspects took measurements and did surveys at park, says Jakarta anti-terror chief
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

New details about a plot to fire a rocket at Marina Bay from Batam island have raised more questions over the capabilities of the terrorist cell behind the foiled attack.

Indonesia's National Counter-terrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Suhardi Alius said the suspects planned to launch the strike from a hilltop in Taman Habibie.

The little-known nature park is located about 17km from Singapore's shoreline and just over 18km from Marina Bay Sands.

"It's true that they only did surveys and measured the angle of elevation from Habibie hill to Marina Bay, but Bahrun Naim had plans to send expert technicians to make the explosives and to prepare for the strike," he said on Monday.

Bahrun is an Indonesian militant believed to be in the Middle East fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Analysts said the bomb-makers would likely be ISIS loyalists from other militant cells, particularly from Central and West Java, which are hotbeds for militant activity.

For instance, Bahrun used to live in Central Java, as did firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, while West Java was where extremist ideologue Aman Abdurrahman and the four men who mounted the Jan 14 attack in Jakarta were once based.

"Bahrun Naim is the one who turns orders from (ISIS leader Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi into action plans in Indonesia," said terrorism analyst Mukti Ali.

The researcher from think-tank Rumah Kitab, which is involved in deradicalisation efforts in Indonesia, also noted the possible influence of Aman in such terror plots.

A key part of the plot is the rocket and whether it is capable of reaching Singapore.

"Building a rocket requires a high level of physics," Mr Kelvin Wong, an editor from military publication IHS Jane's, has said, adding there are many variables to take into account, such as wind direction, the launch angle and how much propellant to put in the rocket.

So for their purpose, the plotters would need powerful military- grade Katyusha-style, Grad or Chinese WS-1E rockets.

General Suhardi was speaking at a closed-door dialogue with editors and senior journalists from the local media in Jakarta.

Based on his revelations, the Batam cell did not seem to have either the weaponry or the expertise to launch an attack yet, said observers.

Police have arrested six members of the Batam cell since August, including its leader Gigih Rahmat Dewa, who is allegedly Bahrun's point man for the rocket attack.

The general said Bahrun had coordinated the attack using social media and it is an example of how terrorist groups such as ISIS are using social media such as Facebook and the Telegram messaging app to recruit people for their cause.

Gigih and his men are being held in Jakarta for investigations.

Clear view of Singapore from park
By Francis Chan, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

Taman Habibie is a little-known nature park in the north-western part of Batam that overlooks the Singapore Strait at its highest point.

Locals familiar with it say that, on a clear day, they will visit the hilltop for an unobstructed view of Singapore's skyline.

Located about half an hour from central Batam, the park is relatively secluded and there are no homes or shelters along the 2km trek from the nearest road. When The Straits Times visited the park yesterday, a handful of children were playing in the area. The Marina Bay Sands integrated resort could be seen from a makeshift lookout point at the edge of the hill.

While there are no official records on how high the hill is, the summit can be accessed only by an old stairway residents call "1,000 steps", which is also the number of steps it takes to reach the top.

The park is named after former Indonesian president B.J. Habibie, who once lived nearby. Batam resident Atan said Mr Habibie used the plot of land as a helipad whenever he visited the island.

Calls to boost vigilance, social resilience in face of terror threat
By Melody Zaccheus and Seow Bei Yi, The Sunday Times, 7 Aug 2016

A pair of "terrorists" brandishing revolvers stormed a hawker centre in Toa Payoh Lorong 1 yesterday.

In a counter-terrorism exercise, they "fired" at the crowd, killing four and wounding one before police arrived to kill the attackers, and the Singapore Civil Defence Force attended to casualties.

The exercise was organised by the Toa Payoh West-Balestier constituency's community emergency and engagement committee for Emergency Preparedness Day.

It was planned much earlier, but took place a day after Indonesia arrested six members of a terror cell in Batam, whose leader had been planning an attack on Marina Bay. Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Chee Hong Tat, an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said thearrests "bring home the point that we have to stay vigilant and be prepared for attacks that will come whether within our shores or from the region around us".

He added that learning the skills to deal with an emergency will make a difference after an attack.

Since June, about 1,200 residents in his ward have been trained in first aid skills and cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques, and learnt how to operate an automated external defibrillator as part of SG Secure. They were also taught protocols such as "run, hide, tell" in the event of an attack.

Other government leaders also reiterated the need for social resilience and unity at events yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean said everyone can "play an active role to stay alert and prepared". Speaking at a National Day dinner in Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC, he said recent attacks drive home the need to promote religious harmony and counter radical ideology. The Government appreciates the efforts of the Malay-Muslim community and its religious leaders to counter extremist ideas, he said, adding: "We will make sure that Muslims in Singapore continue to be able to lead their lives peacefully and be treated equally and fairly."

Labour chief Chan Chun Sing said Singaporeans "must never let the seeds of suspicion and discord break our society".

Meanwhile, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Defence Maliki Osman, who spoke at an inter-faith dialogue series, said fostering understanding among different communities starts at the basic, everyday level. He cited issues that might arise surrounding day-to-day interactions, such as eating with friends who are fasting or who have dietary restrictions.

Talking about these issues can help people better understand one another's religious observances, he said. "These are things that we take for granted because we think they are not so important, but they have an impact on the kind of relationship that you can build over time."

* Batam militants behind foiled Marina Bay plot jailed for terrorism conspiracy

But insufficient evidence to convict the six for rocket attack plot on Marina Bay, say judges
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2017

Six Indonesian militants arrested for planning to fire a rocket at Singapore's Marina Bay from Batam Island have been sentenced to between three and four years in jail for conspiracy to commit terrorism.

A panel of judges at a district court in Jakarta, led by District Judge Tarigan Muda Limbong, said yesterday that although there was insufficient evidence to convict them for the plot to attack Singapore, the men were still guilty of other offences under Indonesia's anti-terror laws.

The alleged leader of the Batam terrorist cell, Gigih Rahmat Dewa, 31, was jailed for four years for harbouring two Uighurs whom he had helped escape from Malaysia to Indonesia.

The other five from the group - Hadi Gusti Yanda, 20; Tarmidzi, 21; Leonardo Hutajulu, 24; Eka Saputra, 35; and Trio Syafidro, 46 - will serve one year less for concealing information on terrorist activities.

The verdict follows twin suicide bombings in East Jakarta on May 23 which killed three policemen, and comes amid fears of a spillover of fighting from the siege on Marawi City in the southern Philippines by Islamic Maute militants.

Gigih, Hadi, Tarmidzi, Eka and Trio were rounded up on Aug 5 last year in Batam by Indonesian counter-terrorism police Detachment 88 in connection with the plan to attack Singapore, while Leonardo was arrested the following month.

All six were also charged in January with funding terrorist activities under Indonesia's Anti-Terrorism Act, which was enacted the year after the 2002 Bali bombings that claimed 202 lives.

The law is currently being reviewed by lawmakers to give the police and military more powers in Indonesia's war on terror.

Gigih and his men denied all the charges when the trial began in February.

Prosecutors also encountered difficulties producing witnesses to testify against the group, known as Katibah Gonggong Rebus, during subsequent hearings at the East Jakarta District Court.

Evidence indicated that Gigih and his men had pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sometime in August 2015.

Gigih was also said to have ties to Bahrun Naim, an ISIS operative who has had a hand in several other terror plots in Indonesia.

Bahrun allegedly instructed him to set up a travel agency in Tanjung Pinang as a front to help generate revenue and launder money for their cause, as well as to help facilitate the travel of Muslim militants.

These include those who want to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS, or to Poso, Central Sulawesi, to link up with the East Indonesia Mujahideen terrorists.

Gigih was accused of helping two Uighurs from a Muslim separatist group in Xinjiang, China, escape from Malaysia to Indonesia.

One of the Uighurs was caught last year in Bekasi, in West Java, with plans to mount a suicide bombing.

Police sources told The Straits Times that these activities were said to be funded by Bahrun, who was placed on a United States terrorist watchlist earlier this year.

According to the US Treasury Department, Bahrun had transferred nearly US$72,000 (S$99,400) "to an associate in Indonesia, purportedly to conduct attacks on his instructions".

The US authorities did not identify the associate, but prosecutors said during Gigih's hearing that a bank account used by several Indonesian militants with ties to ISIS was found in his name.

Money drawn from the same account also funded terror plots in Indonesia, added the prosecutors.

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