Thursday, 19 October 2017

Counter-terrorism exercise at Changi Airport Terminal 3: Airport a high-profile target for terrorists, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Exercise Northstar 10: Crucial for security forces to be well prepared; agencies urged to cooperate closely and practise crisis response
By Danson Cheong and Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2017

Changi Airport is a "high-profile target" for terrorists, and it is crucial that security forces here are prepared to react to an attack there, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He added that they would have to do so in a way that will neutralise the attackers decisively, while minimising casualties. He made the remarks after observing a counter-terrorism drill at the airport, held as part of ongoing efforts to hone the multi-agency response to terror threats.

The hour-long exercise, dubbed Northstar and in its 10th edition, involved a simulated attack with gunmen shooting people at the Changi Airport MRT station and a suicide bomb explosion in Terminal 3.

Speaking to reporters, PM Lee said: "If you look around the world, more than one airport has had a terrorist attack... It is completely plausible that something like this would happen in Singapore.

"If it does happen, we must be quite sure that our responders are ready for it. We know what to do, we know how to work together, we know who to go where."

PM Lee urged the various agencies to cooperate closely and have ample practice.

Yesterday's exercise involved more than 650 people from the Singapore Police Force, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and also ministries and agencies including Changi Airport Group, SMRT and the Health Ministry.

The simulated attack on what was supposed to be a busy Saturday afternoon started with two gunmen firing at people as they alighted from a train at Changi Airport MRT station.

Within moments, police officers from the Public Transport Security Command responded, killing one gunman. The other fled to the T3 departure hall. This initial strike was followed by a suicide bomber detonating an explosive vest in the departure hall, before three other gunmen stormed the terminal.

Crack troops from the Airport Strike Force and Rapid Deployment Troops from the Special Operations Command swooped in. The gunmen were later taken down inside the transit area of T3, where combat engineers from the SAF's chemical, biological, radiological and explosives defence group later disarmed an improvised explosive device.

SCDF officers carried casualties to a first aid point outside the terminal, where they were given emergency treatment by personnel from the Health Ministry.

PM Lee, who observed the exercise along with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng, said such drills allow responders "to come together, practise what they need to do and also give us a good sense of where weaknesses in our preparations may be and what we have to do".

The police said in a statement that the exercise allowed them to test the coordination between the different agencies and groups, as well as their response.

Busy airports have been targeted in recent years by terrorist groups looking to maximise casualties and cripple transport infrastructure. Last year, airports in Brussels and Istanbul were attacked, leaving 73 dead and hundreds more injured.

Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said drills like these were the closest security agencies could get to an actual attack, and will help to expose gaps that might not be apparent in meetings held to simulate emergencies, known as table-top exercises.

"If units exercise often enough, in a time of real crisis, they will already have a certain level of familiarity," he said.

Phase 2 of Northstar will take place on Oct 28 at the Home Team Tactical Centre.


If it does happen, we must be quite sure that our responders are ready for it. We know what to do, we know how to work together, we know who to go where.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, saying that an attack on a target like Changi Airport was "completely plausible".


* Exercise Highcrest 2017: 'Terrorists' arrested in waters off Changi in multi-agency maritime security exercise
Multi-agency biennial security drill included land demonstration - a first for Exercise Highcrest
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2017

"Terrorists" in speedboats, suspected of smuggling arms, were intercepted in Singapore waters off Changi Coast Road, but not before one of them "escaped" to the eastern coast.

But he was swiftly arrested, along with an accomplice, by officers from the Coastal Hardening Strike Force outside the National Service Resort and Country Club, who arrived on the scene in police cars with sirens blaring.

The land demonstration was a first for Exercise Highcrest, a multi-agency biennial maritime security exercise coordinated by the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre, held from last Thursday to yesterday.

Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman yesterday observed this scenario play out, one of a number to test the readiness of multiple agencies to respond to such threats.

He said: "We saw what happened in Mumbai, even though it was almost 10 years ago in 2008. We have learnt from those experiences... and developed our own responses to a terror incident coming from sea."

The sea portion involved a Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Littoral Mission Vessel, two Police Coast Guard high-speed interceptors and a patrol interdiction boat. Warning flares were fired by one of the interceptors and the patrol interdiction boat, before the terrorist boats were surrounded by the vessels.

This year, Exercise Highcrest involved about 300 personnel from 14 government agencies, including the RSN, Singapore Police Force, Singapore Civil Defence Force, Singapore Customs, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

A range of maritime terrorism scenarios was tested during the eight-day exercise, including the sea infiltration and a chemical attack on board a ferry.

Previous Highcrest exercises included the storming of a hijacked merchant vessel and rescuing hostages on a passenger coach at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

This year's exercise took place in between two Exercise Northstar counter-terrorism drills.

The first on Tuesday last week involved a simulated attack where gunmen shot people at the Changi Airport MRT station and a suicide bomber blew himself up in Changi Airport Terminal 3. Phase 2 of Northstar will happen tomorrow at the Home Team Tactical Centre.

Colonel Nicholas Lim, who is the director of the National Maritime Sense-making Group - the intelligence arm of the Singapore Maritime Crisis Centre - said that it is the first time that Highcrest is working with Exercise Northstar. It was carried out this way to see how scenarios that happen on land could impact sea operations, and vice versa.

"It's important that we actually have a presence in the maritime domain, with it being porous and easily accessible, so that we're able to stop people from leaving (if there's an attack that happens on land)," he said.

Asked whether more integrated exercises could be expected, Dr Maliki said: "The whole-of-government approach towards preparing for security challenges is critical and important. Moving forward, we'll see a lot more of such integration."

Singapore's maritime environment also poses unique challenges as it is among the busiest in the world with over a thousand vessel movements every day, said Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Ang Jeng Kai, operations group commander of the Maritime Security Task Force, who was involved in Exercise Highcrest.

"Many of (the vessels) are small craft that traverse across our waters so it is not easy to identify a threat," he said.

** Exercise Northstar 10 Phase Two: Citizens' ability to react vital in terror attack, says DPM Teo
If alert, they may be able to prevent terrorists from carrying out a strike, says Teo Chee Hean after anti-terror exercise
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 29 Oct 2017

In the event of a terror attack, what is most important is that regular citizens know what to do and how to react, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said.

If they are alert and vigilant, they might be able to prevent and deter would-be attackers from carrying out a strike, he said.

"And if you are caught up in an incident, you have to know what to do. Run, hide, tell, help those around you," he added.

Mr Teo was speaking to reporters yesterday after observing an anti-terror drill - Exercise Northstar - which saw community volunteers and professional first responders work together to respond to a simulated attack.

The four-hour exercise, held at the Home Team Tactical Centre in Mandai, involved about 500 officers from various agencies responding to a scenario of twin car bombs exploding at a mixed-use building housing a shopping mall, a bus interchange and residential units.

Such exercises allow various agencies to test their coordination, said Mr Teo, adding that it was "a very important part to restoring normalcy after an incident".

Led by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the exercise involved key agencies such as the Singapore Police Force, People's Association, national water agency PUB and the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

It was phase two of the 10th edition of Exercise Northstar. Phase one was held on Oct 17 and involved gunmen storming Changi Airport Terminal 3.

Yesterday's simulated attack saw two bomb-laden cars exploding outside a four-storey building, causing it to partially collapse.

Within an hour, SCDF officers were on the scene, searching through the rubble for survivors. Response efforts were coordinated from an on-site command post.

The SCDF's elite Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team used high-powered drills to punch holes through concrete walls to get to survivors trapped inside.

Meanwhile, search and rescue dogs were sent to comb the wreckage for signs of life.

Some of the rescue operation's heavy lifting was also done by about 200 men from the SCDF's 51 Rescue Battalion, who used wooden beams to shore up unstable walls and help extricate the casualties. This is the first time an operationally ready national servicemen battalion has been involved in the exercise.

Colonel Andrew Tan, commander of the battalion, said the exercise scenario was realistic and that it was challenging to cut through the rubble and get to casualties.

"I think my men are fully aware (of the current security risks) and we need to be prepared to support such emergency operations," said the 46-year-old.

The importance of community volunteers was highlighted by Mr Teo, who said that their actions make a difference.

A community volunteer who took part in the exercise was Madam Chan Shui Ying, 72, who administered first aid to casualties.

She started learning lifesaving skills about 10 years ago, and helps out regularly at grassroots events where people learn skills such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"I tell them, 'Take it up, it's good for your family, you never know when you might need it,'" she said.

Yesterday's exercise was also observed by Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

Mr Shanmugam said that while Singaporeans understand better the threat from terrorism today, more still needs to be done.

"Awareness is increasing. Whether all of our people are fully prepared, I think we are quite far away from that. It's going to be a lot of hard work," he said.

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