Old war, new methods: Staying one step ahead of terrorists

Old war, new methods: Staying one step ahead of terrorists

The Singapore authorities' swift response in using tough anti-terrorism laws is one reason there has been no resurgence of the JI network here, says terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna. Other measures include the rehabilitation of JI detainees by Muslim clerics, and the strong partnerships between the Government and the community.

IF THE 2001 plot by Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorists to attack Singapore had succeeded, the carnage could have been five times that of the horrendous Bali nightclub bomb blast a year later.

Painting this chilling scenario, terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says that over 1,000 people in Singapore might have been killed because of the sheer quantity of the explosives.

The terrorists planned to use six trucks, each loaded with three tonnes of ammonium nitrate, and simultaneously ram them into different targets in Singapore, according to a 2003 Singapore Government White Paper on the JI arrests and the threat of terrorism.

In comparison, the terrorists who killed 202 civilians in Bali used a single Mitsubishi van packed with just over one tonne of potassium chlorate.

Potassium chlorate burns faster and is easier to turn into an explosive than ammonium nitrate.

Since the first wave of arrests of JI militants in Singapore in 2001, more than 60 men have been jailed for their involvement in planning terror attacks against Singapore. Of these, more than two-thirds have been released under orders restricting their movements.

The swift response of the Singapore authorities in using the country's tough anti-terrorism laws is one reason there has been no resurgence of the JI network in Singapore, says Dr Gunaratna, who has studied global terrorism threats for more than 25 years.

Other measures include the rehabilitation of JI detainees by Muslim clerics, and the forging of strong partnerships between the Government and the community.

But Singapore cannot afford to become complacent. Even with the best security measures in place, the United States and Britain have suffered terrorist attacks. Singapore's security system must be dynamic, retaining an element of unpredictability. "Terrorists are like pickpockets, always looking for gaps and loopholes in security systems to exploit," says Dr Gunaratna.

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