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How terrorism affects national security

1 November 2022


Singapore represents a general stability base in the middle of a small power conflict in Southeast Asia. There has been no terrorist attack on its soil for nearly two decades. Nevertheless, Singapore’s counter-terrorism community believes that the country may face a terrorist attack at any time in the future, and in facing this reality, it always tries to respond to rapidly emerging terrorist trends.

Last year, for example, Asia saw two terrorist attacks against hotels in Mumbai and Jakarta, both of which show a high level of sophistication of the terrorist attacks. In order to effectively respond to these threats, Singapore has adopted community resilience as a key counter-terrorism strategy. The Singapore government believes that reducing ethnic and religious tensions in this country of many races and religions is important to prevent future terrorist attacks in Singapore.

Singapore’s experience with terrorism

The last bomb attack on Singapore took place in December 1987, targeting the US National Guard and the Shell Tower. Before 1987, Singapore faced many other small bombings, including some related to Palestinian terrorists. Then, in 1991, Singapore’s counter-terrorism apparatus came to international attention when it managed to storm the plane which was hijacked and killed four terrorists. Terrorist violence in Singapore ended after that.

In February 2008, however, Singapore faced a major security crisis when JI operative Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from a prison in Singapore. Kastari remained at large for more than a year until he was repatriated to Malaysia in May 2009 with the help of Singaporean intelligence services. Nevertheless, the escape tarnished Singapore’s anti-terrorism reputation. Kastari’s escape raised the prospect of a growing ethnic and religious rift in Singapore.

After his escape, the Singaporean authorities discussed the possibility that Kastari would affect jihadist supporters in the country, which would increase tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Minister Lim Swee Say described the evacuation of Kastari as a “test of unity,” as some regions can “stand firm based on their ethnicity or religion and keep them in order.” Luckily, Singaporeans passed the test without causing any ethnic or religious conflict. The Kastari incident also presented a practical test for social rehabilitation in Singapore. There is a period of public anger and confusion about the exodus directed at the government and expressed in various blogs and internet forums, but there are also various efforts by different communities to encourage help with the arrest of the criminal.

Building social support against terrorism

Due to Singapore’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature, its leaders have always emphasized the importance of unity. The concern in these cases is that “one flash of light”, such as a terrorist attack, can destroy decades of efforts to build consensus.

Singapore made an early priority in building social resilience, an effort that will pay high dividends in the long run. A month after Singapore’s JI Network was unveiled in December 2001, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong proposed the concept of “Interracial Circles of Trust” (IRCC) for each of the country’s 84 regions, as well as “Circles of Harmony” for schools, local services and Other regional organizations. A community steering committee was also established to provide IRCC with comprehensive guidance to improve inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in the community.

Make the public aware of the threat

In 2009, there were prominent government-led programs designed to raise public awareness of the dangers of terrorism. The first is Exercise Northstar VII, one of the most intense military exercises held in Singapore, involving more than 2,000 personnel from 15 companies, hotels, restaurants and travel networks. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that civilians in Mumbai must have seen the terrorists roaming the streets with their tools shortly before the attack. He wants to ensure that the residents will immediately inform the authorities if such an event happens in Singapore. Lee said, “You should continue to live as you should, but at the same time always be careful and on alert.”


All these efforts show that the Singaporean government continues to act quickly to address the threat of terrorism and promote national unity despite jihadist efforts to divide. Although the government hopes to avoid future terrorist attacks, it is aware that various terrorist organizations are operating in the region which have killed many civilians in attacks. The only reason the country has not yet become a victim is that it has effectively foiled such plans from such organizations.

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