'Gunmen', 'bombers' raid Changi Airport as agencies simulate response to terror attacks

'Gunmen', 'bombers' raid Changi Airport as agencies simulate response to terror attacks

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Exercise Northstar being conducted at Changi Airport MRT Station on Oct 17, 2017. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: As Singaporeans snoozed through the wee hours of Tuesday (Oct 17) morning, two masked gunmen stormed Changi Airport MRT Station.

The rifle-wielding assailants got off the train before firing wildly at a platform full of waiting passengers, sparking a flurry of screams and scattered running.

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Gunmen hold passengers hostage on the platform of Changi Airport MRT station during Exercise Northstar. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

This simulated attack marked the start of Exercise Northstar, part of ongoing efforts to test a multi-agency response towards possible terrorist attacks in Singapore.

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SPF personnel corner a "gunman" who has taken a commuter hostage at Exercise Northstar. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Led by the Singapore Police Force (SPF), the tenth edition of the exercise involved more than 650 personnel from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and other agencies.

Under the watchful gaze of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, officers from the Public Transport Security Command took down the terrorists as the fare gates were flung open to facilitate evacuation.

“Exercises such as Northstar 10 Phase 1 allows SPF and other agencies to jointly test and validate the multi-agency emergency response to possible terror attacks,” SPF director operations Assistant Commissioner (AC) How Kwang Hwee said.

“The ability to work well with various public and private stakeholders, in this instance the aviation sector, is critical to ensuring an effective response to any attack.”

Indeed, the private sector chipped in as SMRT staff provided first aid to casualties sprawled on the ground.

But the nightmare was not over yet.

Upstairs at the departure area, a suicide bomber donning a grey jacket detonated his vest, causing a loud blast that sent passengers waiting to check in flying to the ground.

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A "suicide bomber" simulating the detonation of his bomb moments after he stormed onto a crowded terminal floor. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

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Following the suicide bomber detonation, armed gunmen storm the terminal floor during Exercise Northstar. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

"With the explosions and sound effects, it really creates the atmosphere of being attacked," said Senior Staff Sergeant Norshidah Sulaiman, a first responder from the Airport Police Division.

"The most exciting part is you get to feel how a real situation might happen. At least we have practices, we are pre-empted and we know what we have to do."

The 38-year-old, who trained on three occasions before participating in the main event, stressed the importance of such exercises amid the looming threat of terrorist attacks in the Republic.

"With what we have learnt, we can actually apply it when the time comes," she added.

The attack also spilled over to the gate holding area, where the presence of a suspicious bag led to the deployment of SAF’s Chemical, Biological Radiological and Explosives Defence Group. The group dispatched a whirring, roving robot that safely detonated the explosives in the bag.

Back at the departure area, SPF officers from the Bomb and Explosive Investigation Division collected forensic evidence and documented the body parts of the suicide bomber, right under the noses of Mr Lee and his fellow Cabinet Ministers.

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SPF officers from the Criminal Investigation Department's Bomb and Explosive Investigation Division conduct post-blast investigations following a suicide bomber's detonation at Exercise Northstar. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng were also present to observe the exercise.

The entourage then proceeded outdoors, where a first aid and ambulance point was set up to “stabilise casualties and maximise their chances of survival”, a doctor leading operations there said.

Field medical teams from public hospitals and SCDF paramedics hurried about at the point, which was divided into sections colour coded based on the severity of injury. Evacuation was also coordinated to spread the load among hospitals.

"We will continue to work with partner agencies to enhance measures to protect Changi Airport and other key infrastructure, and to ensure swift and decisive action in the event of an attack," AC How said.

Phase 2 of Exercise Northstar, led by SCDF, will be held on Oct 28. 

Source: CNA/rw