In the span of just three years, the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has managed to recruit double the number of people that its predecessor, Al-Qaeda, did over the course of 10 years.
This startling statistic was revealed by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who warned that the threat posed by ISIS "may get worse before it gets better".
Speaking to the German business community here yesterday, he said ISIS radicals - together with the 20,000 to 30,000 foreign fighters recruited, indoctrinated and trained by the terrorist group - could inflict damage in their home countries.
"In other words, they are trained to sabotage, they are trained to bomb... trained with firearms. When they go back to the host countries, you can just imagine what kind of damage they can do," Dr Ng told more than 70 guests at a luncheon hosted by the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
The defence minister said that extremist terror groups posed a threat even before the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, with local cells already plotting attacks on Singapore.
So ISIS has to be seen as a "continuum of the problem", he said.
He added that, even if ISIS is weakened, another terrorist group would "rise up and champion the cause".
The Government must therefore have the community and businesses on its side to fight the threat.
During the 45-minute-long dialogue, Dr Ng also spoke about tensions in the South China Sea, which is being hotly contested by China, Taiwan and four ASEAN countries - Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines.
China has been reclaiming land, reportedly putting weapons on a reclaimed reef, and warning ships and planes from other countries away from the area.
Reiterating that Singapore is not among the claimant states and that it does not take sides, Dr Ng said overlapping sovereignty claims should not disrupt the major waterway, through which 60 per cent of the world's trade passes each day.
He said that a complex problem could not be solved "at one single point".
"My sense is that, if you try to deal with this in one fell swoop, and say 'let's see what this belongs to', you are not going to get any progress."
He said Singapore is pushing for all claimant states to sign a binding agreement stipulating that countries should resolve disputes without resorting to threat or use of force.
Turning to domestic issues, Dr Ng ruled out shortening the duration of national service, saying that the two-year stint is "as long as necessary to defend Singapore".
"If you make it too short, you are diluting the justification for doing that... If you (do with) fewer months, and if something happens to Singapore and you cannot adequately mount a defence for Singapore, then you (would have) wasted generations and years of national service," he said.
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