DAYS BEFORE Singapore’s 51st National Day celebrations, a plot to attack the city-state from Batam was made public.
Last Friday, six men aligned to the Islamic State (ISIS) were arrested for plotting to attack Marina Bay with missiles from the Indonesian island territory. One was released hours later as he was not part of the group.
About 10km separate Batam’s northernmost point, Pulau Anaksambu, from Singapore and a rocket launch could inflict mass casualties in the Republic. Within range also is the National Day Parade at the Sports Hub on Tuesday, August 9.
Not missing a beat, the terrorist plot led at least two British dailies to suggest that next month’s Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix at the Marina Bay, which attracts large numbers of western tourists, was a possible target, too.
But Indonesian investigators have so far found only bomb-making materials and not evidence the arrested men, led by 31-year-old factory worker Gigih Rahmat Dewa, had rocket launchers. It does not however mean they did not have any or would not have received the deadly armament had they remained free.
The terrorists’ capabilities and determination cannot be dismissed because others in their group are still at large. The threat remains and the assumption must be they can still launch attacks from outside of Singapore’s borders.
INDONESIA’S EXPERT BOMB MAKERS
The expertise to inflict mass casualties exists in Indonesia. In 2000, Java-native Dulmatin masterminded 38 explosions at churches on Christmas Eve that killed 19 people. Two years later, he and Malaysian Azahari Husin manufactured bombs for suicide bombers who killed 202 people in Bali.
Another Malaysian, Noordin Mohammad Top, and Azahari also orchestrated the bombings of the JW Marriott hotel in 2003 and Australian embassy in Jakarta the following year, and again in Bali in 2005. A total of 41 people died. Police killed Dulmatin, Azahari and Noordin between 2005 and 2010, but Indonesia is not short on bomb experts. The Malaysians’ Bali accomplice, Muhammad Cholili, was released on parole in 2014 after serving half of his 18-year prison sentence.
The 38-year-old had helped assemble more than 20 backpack and motorcycle bombs before he was caught and jailed. In sentencing Cholili 11 years ago, Indonesian judges described him as ‘a dangerous man’ who had shown no remorse for his actions. He remains a threat.
But can terrorists in Indonesia get their hands on rocket launchers and carry out an attack on Singapore from Batam or other islands close by?
DAUNTING TASK POLICING INDONESIA’S EXTENSIVE COASTLINE
Indonesia’s 54,000km coastline across 93,000 square kilometres of land and sea is the second longest in the world. A fifth of its population of 250 million inhabit almost half of the 13,000 islands outside Java and Sumatra. To police this extensive territory is a massive challenge for Southeast Asia’s largest country.
To put Indonesia’s task in perspective, the United States has a 20,000km coastline plus another 12,000km of borders with Mexico and Canada. Yet with far more advance and numerically superior assets, the Americans still grapple with illegal entry of people and arms into the country.
What more Indonesia? There is the possibility illegal weaponry, smuggled or homemade, can move throughout the country’s archipelago undetected.
So even though no rocket launchers were discovered in Batam last week, they could have been discreetly stored away from the prying eyes of the law. To discount this is to lapse into complacency, which no nation can afford to do so in the dangerous world we now live in.
CONFRONTING A TERRORIST ATTACK ON SINGAPORE
The reality is that terrorism has no borders and the world’s most powerful nations, especially the United States, United Kingdom, Russia and France, have been targeted more than once.
Islamist extremists have not spared even Muslim countries and last month struck in Malaysia, and for the countless time, Indonesia. Thailand and the Philippines have also been hit, and there is no reason why they would give Singapore a pass.
The Lion City, after all, is the second-most densely populated country in the world, and any hit is likely to yield a high number of casualties. It remains at the very least a target for bragging rights among terrorists. So far, Singapore’s internal and external intelligence arms have been able to work with their overseas counterparts to monitor terrorist activities.
But for how long more?
Keeping Singapore safe is not the exclusive job of security agencies, the police and military. It is also the responsibility of all residents, citizens or not. Reading between the lines on what the country’s ministers have been saying about terrorist threats in the past few months, plots against Singapore have been going on for quite sometime.
It is no longer a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’.
Whether fans of this Government or not, all have to close ranks when the inevitable happens. How the country survives and moves on from the evil deeds of terrorists depends on how everyone has each other’s back. Nobody can afford to drop the ball.
Happy National Day!