Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Singapore stages biggest islandwide counter-terrorism exercise from 17 to 18 October 2016

18-hour operation involving Home Team and SAF simulates multiple attacks islandwide
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2016

Heavily armed troops from the police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) turned out in force yesterday across the island, from Marina Bay to Jurong East, to seek out and neutralise a mock terror threat in the country's largest counter-terrorism exercise yet.

The 18-hour operation involved over 3,200 officers, including those from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and other Home Team agencies. It climaxed at malls in Bishan and Tampines, where "terrorists" armed with M-16 rifles and explosive vests took hostages, including in a cinema, before being subdued early this morning.

Earlier yesterday, joint patrols between police and the SAF's Island Defence Task Force, which protects key installations here, were stepped up at over 360 locations such as the financial centre, public transport nodes, shopping malls, residential areas and immigration checkpoints - after intelligence about an imminent attack was received.

There are two reasons for the exercise, said the police. One is to test the combined response between the Home Team and SAF. The other is to raise public awareness of "the current threat landscape and to encourage continued vigilance".

Over 50 community volunteers took part in the operation, which began at 10am yesterday and was set to end at 4am today. The exercise comes as Singapore ramps up its readiness in tackling terror attacks.

On Sept 24, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched SGSecure, a nationwide movement that aims to increase the public's preparedness and resilience.

Last Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, launched an SMS alert system that will notify people if there is a major emergency nearby.

The police in June also launched their Emergency Response Teams, which comprise police land division officers trained in counter-assault. They took part in yesterday's exercise.

These developments are a response to the growing threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and self-radicalised lone wolves to Singapore and the region, at its highest level in recent times.

Indonesia arrested five members of a terror cell in Batam two months ago. The cell's leader had been planning a rocket attack on Marina Bay.

Last week, Malaysian police announced they had arrested 16 terror suspects following a two-week operation that spanned six states. The country faced its first ISIS attack in June when two men threw a grenade into a nightspot in Puchong, Selangor, injuring eight people.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also warned yesterday that the start of an operation by Iraqi forces to take back ISIS-controlled Mosul could lead to an exodus of the terror group's fighters to the region.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said large-scale exercises such as yesterday's are critical in testing the readiness and coordination of agencies in a terror attack.

He noted how it had been set up to replicate the more common terror scenarios seen today, in which small groups of terrorists hit public places at the same time, such as in the Paris attacks last November. He said: "With ISIS, the attack methodology has changed. Such exercises seek to emulate these attacks."

3,200 personnel mobilised in islandwide anti-terror drill
Multi-agency exercise sees police and soldiers sent to 360 sites after several 'bomb attacks' in the region
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2016

Amid the bustle of Marina Bay Financial Centre yesterday afternoon, an armed policeman and two soldiers pounded the pavements, side by side, on high alert for suspicious activities.

The police officer from the Ground Response Force was flanked by the two soldiers of the Island Defence Task Force (IDTF), and they moved steadily in formation along Marina Boulevard.

Nearby, the police force's fast response car and the army's Peacekeeper Protected Response Vehicle, used as a deterrent measure during the patrols, stood ready.

Such scenes were seen across the island yesterday as part of the country's biggest multi-agency counter-terrorism exercise, which involved over 3,200 personnel.

Security teams were sent to more than 360 locations - including public transport hubs, shopping malls, residential areas and immigration checkpoints - to be on the alert after several "bomb attacks" in the region pointed to an "imminent terror threat" here.

The simulated exercise kicked off at 10am, as the terror threat was "raised" and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers were activated for the joint patrols.

The army units that were mobilised to form the IDTF included the 4th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (4 SIR); 5th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment; and the 41st Battalion, Singapore Armoured Regiment (41 SAR).

By around 1pm at Lim Chu Kang Camp I, soldiers from 4 SIR had gathered to equip themselves with integrated load-bearing vests, SAR 21 assault rifles and baton torches.

They were taken through a refresher course in search and arrest skills, baton drills and engagement rules, which include the amount of force to use against different types of attackers. Then they were deployed in army vehicles to neighbourhood police centres (NPCs) to link up with the officers in blue.

After a short briefing to coordinate efforts, a team from Jurong East NPC moved off to Jurong East MRT station to begin its patrols during the evening peak hours.

The team of three also prowled the areas around Jurong East MRT station and shopping malls Jem and Westgate, as residents and shoppers looked on curiously.

Public Transport Security Command police officers and IDTF soldiers from 41 SAR also circled the MRT station.

Mr Chris Fan, 40, who works in the finance industry, spotted officers patrolling the Jurong East bus interchange when he was on his way home. He said: "There's a possibility that Singapore may be attacked.

"Seeing the officers on patrol reminds me that I also have a part to play to keep society safe, such as reporting anything suspicious on the buses or trains."

'Hostages' rescued from cinema hall
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2016

It was over in a flash.

After tossing in stun grenades, a dozen officers from the Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) burst into the pitch-dark cinema hall, guns blazing.

By the time the lights came on seconds later, four of the five "terrorists" who had taken about 40 people hostage in a Golden Village cinema at Tampines Mall, were dead. The one remaining "terrorist" rose to take a potshot at an officer as the team checked the aisles, but he too was quickly dispatched.

The adrenaline-pumping action was part of a media preview of the islandwide counter-terrorism exercise that started yesterday and ended in the wee hours this morning.

The preview, held hours before the operation began at 10am, involved SOTF officers from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) storming the cinema hall after terrorists launched a coordinated strike on malls in Bishan and Tampines.

Armed terrorists attacked the Century Square shopping mall first, before hitting the adjacent Tampines Mall, barging into cinema hall 1 as a movie played, firing blanks at the ceiling, and yelling: "Get down and shut up!"

They commanded hostages to take pictures and post them on social media. To let the hostages know they were not joking, they picked a man at random and shot him in front of the crowd.

"All of you better cooperate with us, or I will make sure you suffer and die," said one of the terrorists.

Later, one of the hostages was strapped with a suicide vest as he cried for help.

Said one of the terrorists: "We are ready to die, are you?"

Moments later, the SOTF officers broke in. Armed with night-vision goggles, they fired blanks from their HK-416 assault rifles and P-90 sub-machine guns in the darkness, quickly neutralising the terrorists.

"Everyone listen up, we are from the Singapore Armed Forces, we are here to rescue you," said one of the officers to the hostages.

Outside the cinema, police officers formed a security cordon - the exercise was meant to test coordination between different agencies.

The moviegoers, played by SAF servicemen, were swiftly marched out with their hands on their heads, while the hostage who had explosives strapped onto him had the suicide vest removed.

It was later "detonated" in a controlled explosion inside the cinema hall, after the SOTF officers and hostages had left.

In later parts of the operation, officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force tended to the injured, while the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority would go on to nab a "terrorist" attempting to flee the country.

People must know how to react to an attack: DPM Teo
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 19 Oct 2016

Singaporeans need to know how to react when a terror attack happens, just as security forces conduct exercises to prepare their response to such a strike, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of an 18-hour operation that saw heavily armed officers from the police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) out in force across the island, Mr Teo underscored the important role every Singaporean plays in responding to an attack.

"No matter how fast the security forces react, there will always be the first few minutes where whatever you do yourself is important - to protect yourself, your friends and those around you," said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

This week's drill comes as the terror threat is at its highest in years.

The police-led operation was the country's largest counter-terrorism exercise, and involved over 3,200 officers from Home Team agencies as well as the SAF. Community and grassroots leaders played a part too, with 60 volunteers participating in the operation to test their first aid and medical assistance skills.

The exercise ended at malls in Bishan and Tampines, where "terrorists" armed with M-16 rifles and explosive vests took hostages, including in a cinema, before being subdued early yesterday morning.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Lau Peet Meng said the exercise has given officers greater confidence in dealing with simultaneous attacks: "The exercise had allowed us to become more familiar with each other's operating procedure, instilling confidence, from our ground troops to the command elements, and also with the community... We are now better prepared to deal with such a contingency together."

DPM Teo said the exercise was important as it tested Home Team and SAF procedures jointly developed in recent months to respond in a coordinated way to a terror attack.

"There are also lessons to be learnt, which they will take back and improve," he added.

On reports of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters returning home, including to this region, as the terror group loses ground in Iraq and Syria, Mr Teo said "threat levels have been higher than we've seen for many, many years".

"Although the fight is on now in Syria and ISIL may be disrupted in Syria, that means that the terrorists who have gone there may well return home, and that is likely to increase the threat in our region," he said, using another name for ISIS.

"We have to take the threat seriously, not just the security forces but everyone in Singapore - to stay alert, stay united and stay strong," he added.

'Attacks' test coordination of security agencies
Islandwide 18-hour operation also meant to raise public awareness of the terror threat
By Danson Cheong and Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 19 Oct 2016

Under cover of darkness, the "terrorists" sneaked into Singapore on speedboats on Monday night and launched multiple attacks.

Armed with rifles, grenades and explosive vests, they hit the Marina Country Club in Punggol first before fanning out across the island. They later struck almost simultaneously at shopping malls in Tampines and Bishan, killing civilians at will.

These attacks set the scene for the simulated terror incident faced by security agencies over the last two days, in the largest counter-terrorism exercise held here so far.

Led by the police, the 18-hour islandwide operation that began on Monday morning involved almost 2,500 officers from the Home Team, 660 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers and about 60 community volunteers.

The officers responded to attack scenarios at six different locations. The operation climaxed at malls in Bishan and Tampines, where gunmen fired at will and took hostages before they were subdued early yesterday morning.

At Century Square shopping mall in Tampines, four terrorists walked into the mall just after midnight yesterday and opened fire without warning.

Shoppers who managed to run for cover called the police - the lead agency when a terror strike happens here.

Moments later, the first responders from the police's Ground Response Force (GRF) and Emergency Response Team (ERT) arrived on the scene, and they soon overwhelmed and killed the four gunmen.

The GRF, which comprises patrol units nearby, and ERTs, who are trained in counter-assault skills and equipped with HK-MP5 submachine guns, form the first line of the counter-terrorism response.

Troops from the SAF are called in for support when needed.

At the Junction 8 mall in Bishan, police and SAF officers responded to an unrehearsed "active shooter" scenario.

There, the SAF's Army Deployment Force was called in to form a cordon around the mall to contain the shooters, while its Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) officers entered the mall along with the police's ERTs to take down the attackers.

Meanwhile, in another attack scenario in Tampines, police officers pursued terrorists as they moved from Century Square to the adjacent Tampines Mall.

Along the way, the Special Operations Command's Anti-Swarming Teams - crack troops armed with assault rifles and trained in urban combat - were also activated to deal with the threat.

At the Tampines Mall atrium, these officers encountered a terrorist wearing a suicide vest - but they managed to shoot and kill him before he could detonate it.

Later, in an act of desperation, the remaining terrorists holed up in a Golden Village cinema hall, taking about 35 moviegoers hostage.

This was when the SOTF was called in. After they were given a quick briefing by police officers who had formed a security cordon outside the cinema, they stormed the hall in the darkness.

Armed with night-vision goggles, HK-416 assault rifles and P-90 submachine guns, they fired at the terrorists, killing them.

By then, Singapore Civil Defence Force officers had arrived at Tampines Mall to treat the wounded. Those inside the mall were quickly taken to a first-aid point outside, where a medical support vehicle, or mobile hospital, was waiting to tend to those with serious injuries.

Community responders trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid were also activated to help the injured. Accountant Rama Diwakar, 45, helped to bandage the wounded. Speaking to The Straits Times after the exercise, Madam Rama said: "This is really very realistic. We've learnt how to treat patients without losing our cool."

With the attacks foiled, one terrorist later attempted to flee the country but was nabbed at the Woodlands Checkpoint by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

The large-scale exercise was held to raise public awareness of the terror threat, and also test the coordination between different agencies.

Project Day After: Finding ways to ease tensions day after 'attacks'
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay and Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 19 Oct 2016

A day after simulated "terror attacks" were staged at heartland malls here, grassroots leaders and community partners gathered at command centres yesterday evening to simulate what would happen if there was a breakdown in communal ties in the aftermath.

Amid a heightened sense of mistrust and anxiety among neighbours, they discussed the various ways to reassure residents and ease tensions, so that society can quickly return to normal.

Termed Project Day After, it was the first nationwide exercise to test the operational readiness of grassroots organisations after a crisis, such as their ability to share timely information and bring the community together. It followed Singapore's largest counter-terrorism exercise that involved over 3,200 personnel for 18 hours until 4am yesterday.

Yesterday's discussion-based exercise, organised by the People's Association's (PA) Community Emergency and Engagement Committees, involved about 800 grassroots leaders and community partners spread across the 16 GRC Operations Centres.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and PA deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing, who observed the exercise at Buona Vista Community Club, said: "The most powerful weapon we have in counter-terrorism is the ability to mobilise the community, to use their resources and energies to bond people."

Mr Ee Chai Keng, a grassroots leader and coordinating vice-chairman for the Tanjong Pagar GRC exercise, said: "We are known to the residents here, so I believe that they will listen to us more."

Such nationwide exercises are crucial in preparing the community, in the light of the growing threat in the region, according to Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who observed the exercise at the Nee Soon South Emergency Preparedness Centre at Block 839, Yishun Street 81.

"As ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) suffers reversals in Syria and Iraq, you can expect that they will focus on other areas, and also you have the significant risk of people returning from the battle zones," said Mr Shanmugam, who is an MP for Nee Soon GRC. "The response from the community is critical because when something happens, you need the community to come together."

Nee Soon South grassroots leader Wallace Chew, 62, said: "The situation is always changing and terrorists have found new ways to attack, such as using chemical agents. We also need to continuously improve and update our plans."

SGSecure: SPF Held Largest Ever Counter-Terrorism Exercise to Prepare for Terror Attack

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