Analyst: Singapore not an immediate ISIS target

This article is more than 12 months old

Hard to strike the Republic due to strong intelligence links in region

Singapore may not be an immediate target for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters after the terror group suffered defeats in Raqqa in Syria and Marawi in the Philippines.

But terror analysts warn that the Republic must keep its guard up, as fighters return home from these frontline areas and with ISIS likely to ramp up attacks in the region - starting with countries where it already has a substantial base of supporters.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore said ISIS and its supporters are more likely to carry out attacks in the Philippines, where it has "an extensive and historical network even though the groups are diverse and badly divided".

And once stalwart military groups there like the Abu Sayyaf "get their act together and ISIS is off the ground again", their sights could turn on Singapore, which offered Philippine forces a detachment of unmanned aerial vehicles to boost intelligence gathering and reconnaissance.

These extremists may partly blame Singapore for the loss of Marawi, said Prof Singh.

Research fellow Graham Ong-Webb from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) agreed that Singapore's support in the global fight against terror - for instance providing intelligence, medical and logistical support to the anti-ISIS coalition in the Middle East - has lit a spotlight on the country.

He said ISIS' core battle has shifted from the Middle East to South-east Asia. It has looked to the southern Philippines, where an alternative caliphate could take root.


"We can expect ISIS to push harder for an attack in key cities in South-east Asia, including Singapore," he added.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna from RSIS said Singapore remains the prime target in South-east Asia, due to its pre-eminent status as a global hub.

However, it is "exceptionally hard" to strike Singapore, which has invested much in security and has strong intelligence links in the region, he noted.

Prof Singh said the number of ISIS supporters here also remains small compared to its neighbours such as Indonesia.

"Our deradicalisation, counter-radicalisation and deterrent laws are a great help in ensuring ISIS do not have much support and sympathy here," he said. "Our danger comes from ISIS supporters in the region..."

He added: "Singapore is definitely an ISIS target but while we need to be extremely vigilant, I think for the time being we are a strong potential rather than an immediate target."

But Singapore is not impenetrable, Prof Rohan said.

"Although the main effort of Singapore is to strengthen regional security to meet the ISIS challenge, Singapore should prepare for likely attack scenarios on its own soil."