They all have been the unfortunate targets of planned terrorists attacks in recent years that resulted in the deaths of many innocent civilians. Is Singapore the next target?

After all, it almost happened here. If not for the detainment and arrest of several members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in December 2001, their plans to attack various embassies and foreign targets in Singapore would have inevitably led to carnage, and a loss of countless lives.

What is terrorism and who are these people that plan and execute these heinous acts? What motivates them to resort to such extreme measures in order to put their message across?

Terrorism is defined as the kidnapping or violent and cold-blooded killing of innocent civilians in order to achieve political aims. Terrorists are people who use murder, kidnappings, bombings, and other violent means in order to force and pressure the government to do their bidding. They are bonded by their strong beliefs and agendas.

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To most of us, terrorism may seem like a new phenomenon. The truth is that terrorist acts have been committed all over the globe for over a century. Our tiny peaceful country is no stranger to the mayhem of terrorism as well. Older generations of Singaporeans would recall the SQ117 hijacking in 1991, the Laju ferry hijacking in 1974, and the MacDonald house bombing in 1965.

On the 31st of January 1974, terrorists from the Japanese Red Army (JRA) bombed petroleum tanks located in the island of Pulau Bukom. During their escape from the island, the terrorists hijacked a ferryboat, named “Laju” and took some crewmembers that were onboard as hostages. The terrorists demanded the release of their jailed comrades held captive in other countries.

The ordeal ended with several government officers volunteering as “hostages” in exchange for the release of the kidnapped crewmembers. Among the Singapore officials was the then Director of Security & Intelligence Division, Mr S R Nathan, who is the current President of Singapore. In the end, the terrorist were cornered and forced to negotiate the release of the hostages in return for their own safe passage home.

Singapore faced yet another terrorist incident on the 26th of March 1991. Four Pakistanis hijacked a Singapore Airlines shuttle flight SQ 117 that departed from Subang International Airport with 129 passengers and crew onboard. Singapore Armed Forces commandos successful stormed the aircraft and killed the four terrorists swiftly. None of the passengers and crewmembers were injured. Singapore received much international praise for the successful handling of the hijacking.

Of late, I spotted teams of armed officers carrying machine guns and accompanied by bomb sniffing dogs, patrolling the airport and major train stations. Ironically, I felt apprehension rather than security. Their mere presence suggested an elevated and heightened alert level for potential threats to our nation’s safety.

I also noticed a campaign advertisement by SMRT at certain bus stops, which aims to remind the public that we should not stop our usual routines out of fear and that life should go on. This campaign coincided with the “Changing Face of Terrorism” exhibition, which is still on at the National library until the mid of December.

Out of curiosity, I decided to learn more about terrorism by visiting the exhibition. In these uncertain times, no one and nowhere is absolutely safe for sure. All of us have our part to play in guarding against terrorism. What I learned from the exhibition is that we have to stay informed, vigilant, and prepared to handle any crisis that emerges. 9/ 11 started a whole chain of events that changed the world. Just a month before that fateful day, I had started to make plans to move to New York.

Who would have thought that just one man, Osama Bin Ladin, could alter the fate of someone such as myself, who lived half way around the world from the World Trade Center twin towers. As I left the library, I pondered what my life would have been liked if September 11 never occurred.

For fun, check out this student presentation on Terrorism and Hotels

Illustration: Joe Bodia