Police patrolling at a park nearby Marina bay in Singapore (Photo by Tremendous Shots from Shutterstock.com)

Experts divided on the need for SGSecure to include civilian self-defence during terror attacks

Following the terrorist attacks at the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last Friday (15 Mar) that shocked millions of people around the world, security experts have weighed in on whether civilian training should be included as a part of a national anti-terrorism movement closer to home.

According to a report by The Straits Times on Thu (21 Mar), several security experts have opined that Singapore’s SGSecure initiative should “be expanded to equip civilians with skills like unarmed combat to fight back, when necessary”.

Currently, civilians in Singapore are “advised to move away from danger, stay out of sight and alert the authorities”, adding that “[p]ublic education workshops under the framework also focus mainly on first aid and psychosocial support”.

The idea of civilian self-defence during terror attacks was based on the decision of 49-year-old Naeem Rashid and 48-year-old Abdul Aziz to fight the 28-year-old Australian gunman responsible for the terrorist attacks in Christchurch last week, which had purportedly prevented a higher number of casualties.

Mr Naeem was killed in the tragedy, while Mr Abdul Aziz survived.

Mr Aziz charged towards the gunman with only a credit card machine, following which the attacker fled the scene and was later arrested by the police.

S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) associate research fellow Remy Mahzam told ST that Mr Aziz’s case demonstrated how the idea of incorporating civilian self-defence as a part of anti-terrorism movements “should not be ignored”.

However, Mr Remy warned that tackling terrorist attacks head-on could result in civilians’ death, as seen in Mr Naeem’s death, adding that civilians fighting back in a terror attack could worsen matters in the event of a hostage situation.

Professor of security studies at RSIS Rohan Gunaratna told ST that while current measures in place under SGSecure “are crucial to help people respond appropriately during an attack”, the current message “relies heavily on security forces arriving on the scene and dealing with the attacker”.

He stressed that the “first responders are the community, not the security forces”.

“Security forces will respond, but it will take a few minutes at least,” added Dr Rohan.

Thus, argued Dr Rohan, the “fight” element ought to be integrated into the SGSecure message in the event that escaping the terror attack scene is not an option.

“[I]f there is no option to run, it would be good for citizens to be trained to confront the terrorist,” he said.

Programme director for Certified Counter Terrorism Practitioner Yaniv Peretz, however, told ST that “while the combat element is useful, it is a small part of the “tool box” to prepare citizens for an attack”.

“Fitness level, knowledge of first aid and the orientation of buildings around the vicinity” are also of paramount importance, he added.

Macquarie University’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology Associate Professor Andrew Tan told ST that the incorporation of civilian self-defence in SGSecure is not necessary “as there are trained national servicemen in the civilian population”.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters on Tuesday that the SGSecure movement has to be “very careful” in advising people to fight back, particularly an armed terrorist, according to ST.

“In terms of fighting back, they will have to use their own common sense as well. If we make it a general message that you should fight back, I think we are telling people to go and get killed. It is dangerous.”

Mr Shanmugam added that while Singaporean men who have served national service would have learnt the necessary combat skills, he also suggested women in the Republic to prepare themselves with similar skills in the face of such attacks.

“We want them to be, first of all, safe themselves,” he added.