Terrorism threat still present despite arrests: Lee Jr

  Agence France Presse
January 18, 2002

HE arrest of suspected terrorists in Singapore last month has nipped in the bud any immediate danger, but the threat of terrorism has not gone away, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said late Friday (Jan 18).

"Singaporeans are now safe. Our security agencies are on top of the situation, and there is no need for anyone to overreact," he said in a speech at a community gathering.

"We should remain calm and go about our lives normally. However, we must also bear in mind that while Singaporeans are not in any immediate danger, the problem has not gone away," he said.

"International terrorist groups will try again. New groups may form here and hatch new plots to attack targets and endanger innocent lives," said Lee, who has been named by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong as his preferred successor.

The news of the arrests of 15 people -- two of whom were subsequently freed -- belonging to a group called Jemaah Islamiyah with alleged links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network has shocked Singaporeans, who have known only peace and prosperity for most of their 37-year history.

The group allegedly planned to attack US military personnel and bomb US naval ships.

They also allegedly attempted to buy large volumes of ammonium nitrate to make "truck bombs" and among their targets were the US, British and Australian embassies.

Lee said the discovery of their presence here has "driven home the reality of global terrorism.

"Terrorism is no longer a vague, distant threat associated with the September 11 attacks in the US and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. It is a present danger at our doorstep," he said.

The arrests by Internal Security Department agents last month "disrupted a dangerous plot, which would not only have killed innocent Singaporeans" as one of their targets was a busy train station which US personnel also used.

Worse, it would have "caused suspicion and enmity between Muslims and others, and severely damaged our racial and religious harmony," he said.

Lee, the son of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, cautioned that some groups "who espouse radical views" may try to exploit the incident to polarise Singapore society, comprised mainly of Chinese, Muslim Malays and Indians.

Its four million population also includes about 800,000 foreign workers.