August 14, 2003
SINGAPORE'S parliament passed a law on Thursday, Aug 14, that will allow armed air marshals on board Singapore Airlines (SIA) and SilkAir flights in a bid to boost security amid the ongoing terrorist threat.
Minister of Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng told parliament during the debate on the legislation that the government intended to install the marshals on the two airlines "very soon".
He said the government was already in discussions with a number of countries to allow the marshals to fly into and out of these territories.
"An Air Marshal Unit will be formed within the Singapore Police Force. The air marshals are handpicked officers and will undergo specialised training," Wong said.
"The introduction of air marshals... will contribute to the enhancing of aviation security by making it more difficult for terrorists to carry out their acts on board Singapore registered aircraft."
Wong said the marshals will be "armed and specially trained officers who will travel incognito" on board selected flights.
"We will deploy air marshals depending on the global and regional security situation," he said.
Wong warned the marshals were needed because SIA and SilkAir were attractive targets for terrorists.
"Although our aviation security measures at Changi airport are robust the possibility of a hijacking occurring on our air carriers arriving from other airports can not be discounted," Wong said.
"SIA and SilkAir are considered at risk because they are icons associated with Singapore."
Wong stressed the new law was not in response to any new specific intelligence warning of an imminent terrorist attack.
But he said Singapore faced ongoing "real and serious" terrorist threats.
This was despite the crippling of an Islamic militant cell in Singapore two years ago that led to the arrests of more than 30 men who had allegedly plotted to bomb local and foreign targets.
Wong said one of the people behind the plot, Mas Selamat Kastari, had intended to emulate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States by hijacking an aircraft and crashing it at Changi airport.
"Mas Selamat has since been arrested but his four associates are still at large... Those terrorists are also prepared to sacrifice their own lives in suicide missions. We will have to take these threats seriously."
He said Singapore had already put in place a 100 percent screening of check-in baggage, and local airlines had strengthened cockpit doors and installed close circuit cameras at the cockpit door.
But hijackers do not necessarily need to use weapons, Wong said, adding they could be physically fit people who forced their way into the cockpit and took control of the plane.
To introduce the new law, parliament approved amendments to the Police Force Act allowing the commissioner of police to appoint air marshals.
The amendments also made it mandatory for Singapore-registered airlines to accept the deployment of the marshals on board their flights with penalties for non-compliance.
The marshals will have police powers to act on board an aircraft both within Singapore territory and outside.
Singapore authorities have already been in contact with other countries with similar units for training and advice. Air marshalls have also received training from foreign experts who have been to Singapore, Wong said.