SINGAPORE: A person who commits a fatal act of terrorism using radioactive material or nuclear explosive devices will face the mandatory death penalty under new laws passed in Parliament on Monday (May 8).
The legislation paves the way for Singapore’s ratification of the United Nations’ (UN) International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT).
Second Minister for Home Affairs Desmond Lee said that while the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist attack in Southeast Asia was remote, the rise of terror group Islamic State means Singapore cannot discount such a scenario and must treat the threat seriously.
“Especially when many countries, including those in our region, use nuclear energy, or are actively exploring the use of nuclear energy,” he added. “In February this year, Malaysian authorities arrested eight people connected to the theft of Iridium-192, a radioactive material which can be used to make dirty bombs.”
It will now be a criminal offence to intentionally and unlawfully use any radioactive material or nuclear explosive device, or use or damage a nuclear facility leading to the release of radioactive material, to achieve the effects of terrorism.
The penalties will be pegged at the same level as a murder offence in the Penal Code and therefore, in the event of death caused, lead to the gallows, said Mr Lee, adding that in any other case, life imprisonment will be the punishment.
The new laws also provide for extra-territorial jurisdiction - meaning any person outside Singapore who commits an act which constitutes a nuclear terrorism offence if carried out in Singapore, is deemed to have committed the act here, said Mr Lee.
“If taken into custody, the person would be charged, tried and punished accordingly in Singapore. This provision allows us to prosecute the offender in Singapore, if it is not possible or desirable to extradite him,” he explained. “It ensures that perpetrators do not escape punishment, regardless of which country they are from, and where they committed the offences.”
But Singapore must also facilitate extradition requests by the 109 other countries who are parties to the Convention, and provide mutual legal assistance with its domestic framework.
“WE TAKE THE POSSIBILITY SERIOUSLY”
Mr Lee later told the House that Singapore has, over the years, been preparing and developing to deal with the risks of nuclear terrorism.
“Agencies such as NEA (National Environment Agency) and SCDF (Singapore Civil Defence Force) have developed the necessary operational capabilities to deal with illicit use of nuclear and radioactive material in Singapore,” he said. “MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and NEA have also been working together to tighten security measures at premises storing high-risk radioactive material.”
To begin with, Singapore has a strict regulatory regime put in place by NEA to make it hard for radioactive material to end up in the wrong hands, said Mr Lee.
“On import, valid permits are required for all cargo entering our port checkpoints - if necessary they will be subject to X-ray screening and radioactivity checks,” he added.
“Thus far, we’ve not detected any breaches involving radioactive material in Singapore.”
An inter-agency committee continually assesses the threat of nuclear terrorism in Singapore, and in the event of an attack, there will be processes to deal with possible scenarios.
“Should such an incident occur, MHA will coordinate a whole-of-Government response,” Mr Lee outlined. “SCDF will render assistance to casualties and contain the radioactive material, assisted by our armed forces where necessary. NEA will provide technical advice to help mitigate harm. The police will investigate the act, find the perpetrators and take them to task.”
He added: “Beyond efforts from agencies, Singaporeans will need to be prepared for an attack.” Authorities may have to evacuate people from affected areas, and members of public may also need to be trained on how to reduce inhalation of harmful substances.
“There are no immediate threats, but we take the possibility seriously,” said Mr Lee. “It is timely we put in place the necessary legal framework now and join the international community to combat terrorism in all its forms - including nuclear terrorism.”