S’pore still a target for terrorism, says PM Lee
Terrorism, he added, continued to pose a “real and potent challenge” globally, although many countries had made progress in fighting it.
“From time to time, we hear reports of terrorists in our region wanting to attack Singapore or Singaporean assets in our neighbourhood,” he said. “We must never let our guard down.”
Lee was speaking at an international conference on terrorist rehabilitation and community resilience at the Raffles City Convention Centre, attended by prominent counter-terrorism experts from around the world and community leaders from Singapore.
The conference was held in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, which counsels radicalised individuals here to abandon their extremist beliefs.
Referring to the ongoing global fight against terrorism, Lee acknowledged that there were encouraging signs.
Osama bin Laden, along with several other al-Qaeda leaders, had been killed and the group’s ability to mount major operations “has been diminished”.
Jemaah Islamiah, the most important terrorist group in Southeast Asia, has also suffered serious setbacks, with leaders and operatives killed or arrested, he said.
Still, these terrorist groups continue to stay active.
Lee cited al-Qaeda’s call to its followers to join the fight to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an example of terrorist groups exploiting local political developments to win new converts.
Even as al-Qaeda continues to prove resilient, other threats are emerging.
Lee highlighted the rise of terrorist splinter groups such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria. These groups are smaller, more amorphous and therefore harder to eliminate.
He also called for caution on self-radicalised individuals, a problem in Singapore.
“We’ve seen several Singaporeans who have been radicalised by terrorist ideology through the Internet, and have acted on their perverse beliefs,” he said.
Earlier this month, the government announced that one such individual, Abdul Basheer, had been detained again under the Internal Security Act, after he made inquiries on leaving Singapore to pursue militant jihad abroad.
Turning his attention to how Singapore should address the serious challenge posed by terrorism going forward, Lee laid out a three-pronged approach: deepening trust in the community especially between ethnic groups, enhancing operational capabilities and strengthening international cooperation.
Keeping Singapore safe, he said, is a constant cat-and-mouse game: “Terrorist organisations become more and more sophisticated, and for each move, there is a counter move, for which the security agencies must develop a counter-counter move, and so it goes on.”
Other speakers at the conference also discussed likely developments in counter-terrorism.
Professor Rohan Gunaratna of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore said that more countries will start to rely not just on coercive methods but on the rehabilitation of radicals as well.
He foresees a possible doubling of rehabilitation programmes worldwide in the next five years.
Brigadier General (Retired) Russell Howard of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the United States said cyber attacks may be the next potential tactic of terrorist groups.