SINGAPORE: Armed officers patrol a train station where television screens and giant posters warn of the threat from militants. Nearby, fake gunmen storm a shopping mall in one of many recent terror attack simulations.
But this is not some war-ravaged country. It is one of the safest in the world, Singapore.
The wealthy island-state has a near-perfect record of keeping its shores free from terror, but as it prepares to host defence ministers from around Southeast Asia this week, it appears to have good reason to have prioritised stopping the spread of militancy in the region.
The cosmopolitan financial hub, which was second only to Tokyo in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Safe Cities Index in 2017, says it has been the target of militant plots for years, some stemming from its Muslim-majority neighbours, and that it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ militants will strike.
“Singapore continues to face a serious security threat from both homegrown radicalised individuals and foreign terrorists who continue to see Singapore as a prized target,” Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in response to e-mailed questions from Reuters.
Singapore authorities say they have been a target of Islamic extremism since the 1990s, but efforts to deter terrorism have stepped up markedly in recent years with more frequent attacks on Western countries and after Islamic State (IS) militants briefly took over a town in the southern Philippines last year.
Raising further concerns about the threat to the island, a Singaporean soldier has featured on a number of Islamic State promotional videos, most recently in December where he was filmed executing men alongside other militants.
In its inaugural Terrorism Threat Assessment Report released last year, the MHA said Islamic State has demonstrated that Singapore is “very much on its radar” and that the threat to the country remains “the highest in recent years” – claims that are backed up by security experts.
“Singapore, being known as safe and secure, makes it such a risk target,” said Dan Bould, Asia director of crisis management at professional services firm Aon and a former captain in the British army.
“If there’s an attack in the Philippines, it may get half an hour in a 24-hour news cycle. An attack in Singapore with all the multicultural individuals operating here will be within the narrative for a few days at least.”
In early 2017, Aon lifted Singapore in the terrorism and political violence category of its annual risk map from negligible to low risk.