Singapore stages biggest security drill as Isis terror threat rises across region
A Police Coast Guard vessel patrols the shipping lanes near freight ships off the coast of Singapore. Reuters

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister has said the terror threat faced by the island republic is higher than what it used to be four years ago.

Teo Chee Hean said Singapore should be prepared for the return of terror sympathizers to the country and the broader region even as Isis affiliates are facing increased pressure in their battle grounds in the Middle East.

The minister made the comments following the biggest ever anti-terror drill Singapore conducted on Monday night and Tuesday morning.

"The fight is on now in Syria and ISIL may be disrupted in Syria. That means terrorists who have gone there may well return home. That is likely to increase the threat in our region," Teo said, according to the Channel news Asia.

"So we have to take the threat seriously, not just the security forces, but everyone in Singapore - to stay alert, stay united, and stay strong."

Various agencies of the Singapore security establishment staged a drill enacting mass shootings, hostage-crises, armed assaults in public spaces and suicide bomb attacks as part of the anti-terror drills.

More than 3,200 officers from the SPF, SAF, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) took part in the security drill.

In one location at the Nee Soon Camp, the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) Army Deployment Force (ADF) enacted a mass shooting and a simulated security lockdown following the emergency.

The ADF forces, equipped with assault weapons such as the SAR 21, demonstrated how the terrorists are neutralized. Apart from Teo, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam and Acting Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung also oversaw the drils at various points in the city.

Rising threat in the region

Southeast Asian countries have all ramped up security in the recent years after the rise of the Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Singapore's home minister said earlier this year the threat of a terror attack in the city state reached the highest level in decades, making the country a "prime target for all."

"The threat of a terror attack here is at its highest level in recent times, much more so than after 9/11, and the arrest of Jemaah Islamiah members. It is no longer a question of whether an attack will take place, but really, when is an attack going to take place. And we have to be prepared for that," Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in March.

Singapore has made multiple arrest citizens who have travelled to the terror hotbeds in Iraq and Syria and have arrested and deported dozens of Bangladeshi migrant laborers with links to sleeping terror cells.

In most cases, the Isis sympathizers used Singapore as a safe haven to group and then pan out into Bangladesh where they planned to launch terror strikes inspired by Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's vision of the future caliphate.

Shanmugam said the threat from Isis-affiliated militants and jihadi groups in the region has soared significantly in recent times.

"ISIS wants to establish a caliphate in this region, encompassing Singapore ... We are in the epicenter of the caliphate that ISIS wants to establish," the minister said.

Malaysia and Indonesia also made scores of arrests related to terror in the past year. Indonesia arrested six people in August for plotting a terror attack on Singapore. Officials said they belonged to the KGR or Katibah Gonggong Rebus, or Cell GR and were apparently influenced by Muhammad Bahrun Naim, a Syria-based Indonesian militant.

After the arrests in Indonesia, Deputy Prime Minister Teo said the police and other security agencies in Singapore have stepped up both inland and border security measures.