BANGKOK: Countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must be prepared for more terrorist activity, warned Singapore Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen on Thursday (Jul 11).
While the arrest of the leader of militant network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Indonesia earlier this month was a good development, a new wave of terrorism has already landed on ASEAN shores, said Dr Ng.
“If you date it to 9/11, Al-Qaeda, Bali bomb blast, the rest of the JI leaders; there was a lull, if you like, with Islamic State-related activities going up in Iraq and Syria. But that means now that when the centre of gravity shifts to ASEAN, we must expect an increase in activity and we already have seen it,” he said.
According to Dr Ng, the number of people radicalised and the number of terror networks in ASEAN countries, including in Singapore, have gone up.
“Whether it is in the networks that are formed or whether it is in the availability of procurement of weapons for terrorist activities, all these have gone up. None of the signs suggest to us that the threat of terrorism has come down."
Dr Ng was speaking on the sidelines of the 13th ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) in Thailand on Thursday, where ASEAN defence ministers pledged to promote sustainable security cooperation and acknowledged the important of the initiatives adopted by ASEAN to strengthen regional peace and security.
One such initiative was the ASEAN Our Eyes initiative, a collaborative platform to exchange counter-terror information.
“If terrorists are attacking your homeland, you certainly want information to be shared to protect your citizens … The more coordinated we are, the more we work together, I think the more the people of ASEAN benefit," said Dr Ng.
He called for the region's armed forces to work together more closely and beef up capabilities not just in intelligence, but also in urban counter-terrorism operations.
"We already have our urban ops facilities in Murai ... we offered it to the Philippines Armed Forces to train and for other ASEAN countries that want to use the facilities, we are open to letting them train there as well," he said.
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The Defence Minister added that ASEAN has made great headway in dealing with transnational security challenges.
“Over the years, we have been coming up with more initiatives and that is a good sign," he said.
Dr Ng also met Thailand Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Prawit Wongsuwan, with both parties reaffirming the close and long-standing bilateral defence relations between Singapore and Thailand.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that Singapore could offer the upcoming SAFTI City for ASEAN militaries to train in. That is incorrect. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that Singapore is open to offering the Murai Urban Training Facility for such training.