Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Fortress Singapore

Fortress Singapore, a Today newspaper headline, seems very suitably named. The Today's news article is about how the authorities have stepped up the security for the 117th International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting, which among other things, will choose the host country of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Sometimes I really wonder if the Singapore authorities have over-reacted to the security threat. Even before this event, the security measures across the island has tighten up. So I see machine-gun at Orchard Road! And the big Security t-shirt at the MRT station, which I think is useless. Not to say the 'cannot take photograph' immigration checkpoint at land crossing with Malaysia, which doing nothing else other than causing long traffic jam. Oh ya, may be they stopped the gun flowing in, but I don't heard much of it even before 911 attack. Anyway, luckily they don't jail if you take photograph at the immigration building. The worse if confiscation only.

Anyway, here the full article:

Fortress Singapore

Along with IOC glamour comes security burden

Wednesday • June 29, 2005

Ansley Ng
ansley@newstoday.com.sg

THE smiles have been perfected.

But as Singapore prepares to hold the 117th International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting to choose the host country of the 2012 Summer Olympics, one group has its guard up.

For eight months, security officials have been sparing no effort to ensure the safety of delegates at one of the highest-profile events to be held in Singapore this year.

More than 2,000 police officers, soldiers and civil defence personnel will be deployed to protect about 3,500 foreigners, including heads of state, celebrities and sporting greats.

"This will be one of the biggest security operations in Singapore in terms of scale and numbers," Senior Assistant Commissioner Aubeck Kam, the Singapore Police Force's director of operations, told reporters yesterday.

For a week starting on Saturday, security will be tightened for the arrival of world leaders such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Football stars David Beckham and Raul, and boxing legend Muhammad Ali will also be in town.

Police have been working closely with the armed forces, civil defence force and organisers to "ensure all delegates have a safe time and see the best of Singapore", said SAC Kam.

For example, police may conduct checks on shoppers at the Raffles City Shopping Centre, next to the convention centre where the meeting will be held.

Vehicles entering the mall's basement car park would also be checked, while visiting delegates would be assigned bodyguards.

While the authorities prefer to err on the side of caution, security experts told Today that the threat of terrorists mounting attacks on the meeting was low.

"You can never rule out the possibility of an attack but I would be extremely surprised (if it happened)," said Dr Tim Huxley, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"Singapore is such a hard target that it is extremely likely to deter terrorists from thinking seriously about attacking this event because Singapore has been proactive in the war against terrorism."

The attendance of so many world leaders and sports stars is viewed as a sign of the world's confidence in Singapore's security.

"In Singapore, the level of security is very high," said Dr Huxley, who specialises in Asia-Pacific security and defence. "It is precisely that sense of security that not only reassures leaders attending such a meeting but also helps attract them."

But it is the high-profile nature of the event — and the guests — that has driven the authorities to take no chances.

Of the cities vying for the Games, New York has already been the victim of the most spectacular terrorist in history. Madrid and Moscow have also been hit by terrorists. London is Enemy No 2 for some, because of Britain's ties with the United States. And, until recently, the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror group was sharpening its knives in the region.

But the authorities can breathe a little easier, knowing that the militant group — whose last significant act of terror was the bomb blast near the Australian Embassy in Indonesia last September – has been crippled.

"We have seen it mount significant attacks … but it's leaders are on the run," said Dr Huxley, speaking to TODAY from London.

"They are probably more worried about evading capture than mounting significant attacks at the moment."

Another security expert, Dr Andrew Tan of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, agreed.

"They (JI terrorists) have to assemble a team of people, have local logistical support, be able to smuggle weapons in and carry out surveillance," said Dr Tan. "It's difficult for JI as many of their commanders are either on the run or arrested."

Last weekend, Basque terrorist group Eta set off a car bomb next to a proposed Olympic stadium in Madrid to protest the city's bid to host the 2012 Games. Could they try to grab the world's attention here?

"Eta does not have the capacity to operate worldwide … chances of them carrying out attacks here would be remote," said Dr Tan.

"Eta has political demands. They explode a bomb but they usually don't want to kill too many people. They want to make a political point," he added.

Nevertheless, along with the smiles, the officials have been striving to perfect their defences too.

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