Minister expresses concern over terror threat in South-East Asia

Singapore Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam highlighted the growing terrorist threat in the city-state’s backyard and expressed concern that an area less than a four-hour flight away is becoming a sanctuary for fighters returning from the Middle East and from there attacks could be launched on South-East Asia.

The Minister was speaking at an international exhibition on home security organised at Marina Bay Sands on Tuesday.

Singapore Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
Singapore Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. Photo courtesy:

He warned that this could become a problem not just for the region but for the rest of the world as well. He said, “The potential locus of the threat could move to Southern Philippines, which is becoming an area that is difficult to control, despite the best efforts of the government… It can be a place where would-be terrorists, and those who are radicalised from this region, can go to get trained.”

He added, “Arms seem to move fairly easily into that region, and from there as a base, they can spread out again to attack this region. So, newly radicalised, would-be fighters, battle-hardened, veterans from the Middle East, and people who are released from prisons, who have not yet been rehabilitated, can all gravitate there. At the right time and opportunity, they may well attack.”

The Minister observed that South-East Asia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, has been of “considerable interest” to ISIS, which has set up a Malay Archipelago Unit in Syria and Iraq, called “Katibah Nusantara”. The unit is actively reaching out to the Malay-speaking population in this region, using propaganda videos and newspapers in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malayu to recruit new members.

He said, “ISIS worldview consists of Malaysia, Indonesia and obviously Singapore, which is in the middle of it, Southern Philippines, as part of a larger caliphate ruled by a caliph, it cannot be by a system of governance, governed by anything other than the rule of God “So there cannot be elections, there cannot be a democratic system. If you have instability along these lines, in this region, it leads up to the rest of South-east Asia and all the way to China, and of course South Asia. So it’s a pan-Asian problem, and given the connectivity, no region is really very far from any other region. Then that is an issue for the rest of the world as well, with a strong centre here.”

Speaking about the preparedness of Singapore to meet terrorist threat, he said, “Singapore has a comprehensive national counter-terrorism strategy based on building blocks including international and intelligence cooperation, countering extremist ideology, security response, as well as protection for buildings, events and targets. Building psychological resilience is also key.”