SINGAPORE: The threat of terrorism continues to be high, and within Singapore, authorities took action against nine Singaporeans last year. According to a public perception survey conducted by the police last year, almost 50 per cent out of those who felt less secure attributed this to the threat of a terror attack, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in Parliament on Friday (Mar 3).
In this landscape, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will continue to strengthen its capabilities to counter the terrorism threat, said Mr Shanmugam during the Committee of Supply debates.
In 2017, Mr Shanmugam said that his ministry will continue to strengthen its capabilities. Amongst these steps, he shared two examples. The first is the collection of iris images by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), which will help it more accurately verify a person’s identity. Travellers, too, can still do self-clearance via iris scans at these checkpoints if they face difficulties with fingerprints, he added.
The second area is to enhance frontline response capabilities, and to do so, the police plan to equip officers with pistols.
“Pistols will give our officers better firepower, compared with revolvers. They have up to three times more ammunition," Mr Shanmugam said.
The ministry will also develop video analytics capabilities from 2018 onwards, he added.
This will build on the "PolCam 1.0" initiative, which saw the installation of police cameras in all 10,000 Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks and multi-storey car parks (MSCPs).
“We have (also) started installing cameras in public areas, such as town and neighbourhood centres and hawker centres. Over the next few years, we will install about 11,000 police cameras, at 2,500 locations, islandwide,” the minister said.
In an update on what was done last year, Mr Shanmugam pointed out that the Police Emergency Response Teams (ERTs), which are specially equipped and trained to deal with terror attacks, were launched.
“Our ERTs are on the ground daily, spread out across Singapore. They patrol public places, such as malls and stadiums. They talk to building owners and operators, and familiarise themselves with their operating environment. They are trained to respond swiftly, to neutralise threats,” he said.
The minister also highlighted efforts to sharpen operational preparedness with major public exercises.
For instance, in October last year, the largest counter-terrorism exercise to date involving more than 3,200 participants was conducted. This tested the islandwide response of Home Team and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers to terrorist threats, and such exercises enable them to coordinate efforts and improve interoperability, he explained.
MAINTAINING PROACTIVE APPROACH
The minister said MHA maintains a proactive approach towards combating terrorism, including the option of detaining anyone who engages in conduct that is potentially a trigger for terrorism under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
“This has helped us to avoid what has happened in other places,” Mr Shanmugam said, highlighting the Christmas Market attack in Berlin as an example. A truck had ploughed into the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in the German capital last December, killing at least 12 people and injuring 48 more.
He noted how the Tunisian truck driver, Anis Amri, who was identified to be responsible for the attack, had served a four-year prison sentence in Sicily, Italy, for several crimes before arriving in Germany in July 2015.
While the German authorities had put him on the radar, its laws did not allow them to preemptively arrest him or produce him in court, and the monitoring ended in September last year. The attack was conducted three months later, he added.
“We should not reach this stage in Singapore. The trade-off, for us, is between taking a greater risk or intervening earlier. My view is that we must be able to intervene early, and decisively,” Mr Shanmugam said.