Creative strategies needed to deal with new terror threats

Creative strategies needed to deal with new terror threats
This year, security measures at the Woodlands Checkpoint were strengthened after two motorists breached security procedures and drove their cars through in separate incidents, avoiding the mandatory checks.

An ancient Chinese proverb describes the challenge facing the authorities dealing with terrorists: dao gao yi chi, mo gao yi zhang.

It means: as virtue rises one foot, vice rises 10; while the priest climbs a foot, the devil climbs 10.

The same could be said for terrorism. In this lethal cat and mouse game, the security authorities need a mindset change, fresh strategies and new partners to anticipate the unknown and prepare to cushion the blows that will be felt when a terrorist strike occurs.

For tiny Singapore, the challenge of keeping the nation secure in the face of terrorist threats remains critical. Experts say our security authorities can build on a strong record of achievements - but it remains an uphill task, as terrorists are constantly evolving and strike when they spot gaps in security measures.

Given the reality that terrorists only need to be lucky once whereas security forces must be lucky all the time, how can governments succeed in preparing for ever-changing threats?

In September 2001, the world watched in horror as Al-Qaeda suicide pilots flew planes into buildings in the United States. It was an unanticipated terror attack.

In December that year, Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD) shocked the nation when it uncovered a plot by the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), to blow up foreign embassies and landmarks here.

Singapore responded by creating its own brand of counter-terrorism strategies. The old approach of simply locking up the terrorists would not work.

This time, the terror threat was from a clandestine network that was part of a larger cluster of terror cells in South-east Asia. To dismantle the JI, Singapore formed its own network of experts from different fields.

Sixteen people involved in this counter-terrorism network were featured in The Straits Times in a recent series of articles. They were security experts, professionals and Muslim clerics.

They showed how a mix of hard and soft power methods were being used to handle security problems that are intertwined and transnational.

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