JAKARTA: Indonesian police yesterday arrested six suspected militants over an Islamic State-linked plot to fire a rocket at an upmarket Singapore waterfront district from a nearby island. Singapore stepped up security after the elite anti-terror unit detained the men, aged between 19 and 46, on the Indonesian island of Batam, which lies just south of the affluent city-state.
The alleged leader of the group is accused of planning the attack with a leading Indonesian militant who is now believed to be fighting with the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria. It was the latest terror plot in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, where there has been a surge in attacks and attempted attacks this year due to the growing influence of IS.
The pair “planned a terror attack in Singapore. They wanted to attack Singapore with a rocket from Batam,” national police spokesman Agus Rianto told reporters. Police said the target was Marina Bay, a district that is home to Marina Bay Sands, a luxury complex that includes shopping malls, hotels and a casino. Rianto added police had “preliminary data” and were still investigating the plot, and named the alleged ringleader as 31-year-old Gigih Rahmat Dewa. Asked whether police had recovered any physical evidence of preparations for a rocket attack, Rianto said “not yet”. In Singapore, an elite police unit patrolled the glittering downtown waterfront in vehicles and on foot yesterday afternoon. One officer said they were on routine patrol.
Analysts said it was unclear whether the militants had the ability to carry out such a plan, which would involve firing a rocket over a distance of about 20 km. Singapore, a financial hub which is home to many expatriates and the Asian headquarters of numerous global companies, said it was stepping up security inland and at its borders after the plot was uncovered. “This does not come as a surprise,” said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. “I have spoken several times about plans being made in places just outside Singapore, to target Singapore. “Our small size increases these risks… Our people have to be extra alert.”
Growing IS Support
Sidney Jones, director of Jakarta think-tank the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, told AFP it was necessary to wait for further information about the plot before drawing firm conclusions. But she added: “I think it highly unlikely that the plan had got very advanced.” Police suspect Dewa, 31, received and distributed funds sent by Bahrun Naim, the militant fighting in Syria with whom he was believed to have plotted the rocket attack. Naim has been linked to several recent terror plots in Indonesia, including a suicide bomb attack on a police station in the city of Solo last month that left one police officer injured.
Batam is linked to Singapore by frequent ferries and its beach resorts and golf courses are a popular weekend getaway destination for Singaporeans, who are preparing to celebrate their National Day holiday on Tuesday. Jakarta-based security analyst Sidney Jones said it would be a departure for Naim and his supporters if they were thinking of attacking targets outside Indonesia. “One thing I think is clear is Bahrun Naim has been able to establish a lot of communication with a lot of people through his social media network,” Jones said.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this week that the financial centre was a target for IS as they saw it as “a rational, open, cosmopolitan country”, even though it was not involved in the US-led campaign against the group in the Middle East. “So do not think that by lying low, we are not going to be a target,” Lee told reporters while on a visit to the United States, the Straits Times newspaper reported.
Indonesia has long struggled with Islamic militancy and has suffered a string of attacks in the past 15 years, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people. A crackdown had weakened the most dangerous networks but IS has proved a potent new rallying cry for the country’s radicals, and hundreds of Indonesians have headed to the Middle East to join the jihadists. In January IS-linked militants launched a deadly gun and bomb attack in Jakarta which left four attackers and four civilians dead.
There have also been signs of support for IS in Singapore. Singapore in recent weeks jailed four Bangladeshi workers accused of planning to join IS for raising money to fund attacks in their homeland, and also detained an Australia-based Singaporean who allegedly glorified the jihadists and backed the establishment of a caliphate in the city-state. – Agencies