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Preventing Terrorist Attacks in Singapore

November 16, 2015

“If you see any suspicious-looking person or article, please inform our staff.” – MRT station announcement

When it comes to preventing terrorism, that’s a pretty useless reminder, since most of us Singaporeans have no clue what to actually look out for anyway. We don’t know what kind of suspicious behavior are hints of an upcoming terrorist attack. All we are currently good at is noticing perverts trying to take upskirt pictures of women…

And in light of the attacks in Paris, we in Singapore need to raise up our level of vigilance. This Newsweek article ( put it very directly:

“Each [terrorist group] … once believed that grandiose, complicated plots such as blowing up major bridges or national landmarks would win them more members. But the more intricate the plots and the more predictable the targets, the more likely it is that Western intel officials can thwart them.

Not anymore. The Paris attacks show that global jihadists have realized what counterterrorism specialists have long feared: strikes on soft targets such as restaurants, concerts and sports venues – using small arms and easy-to-assemble bombs – are harder to stop and can inflict massive damage.”

In plain English, Singapore, with soft targets aplenty, with an unarmed citizenry, IS a viable target for terrorist attacks. As common citizens, we CANNOT say “Preventing this is the government’s job” and just ignore the issue. We have to begin to educate ourselves on what sort of activity is suspicious and ought to be reported to the authorities.

The link below brings us to an article on foiling terrorist attacks. It is written by security professionals to other professionals, but I have highlighted some important lessons we can use.

First, a terrorist attack has three stages: choosing a target, spying on the target to get information (surveillance) and then the actual attack itself. If we can spot terrorists spying on their chosen target it is much easier to foil it then than when the bullets are flying and people are dying.

The article says:

“At its heart, surveillance is watching someone while attempting not to be caught doing so. As such, it is an unnatural activity, and a person doing it must deal with strong feelings of self-consciousness and of being out of place. People conducting surveillance frequently suffer from what is called “burn syndrome,” the belief that the people they are watching have spotted them. Feeling “burned” will cause surveillants to do unnatural things, such as hiding their faces or suddenly ducking back into a doorway or turning around abruptly when they unexpectedly come face to face with the person they are watching.”

This is a dead giveaway. When we see such behavior we ought to report that person immediately. Be on the alert especially at shopping malls, famous, popular eateries and government buildings. Taking a phone picture of the suspicious person may not be any help (he may be wearing a disguise) but it can’t hurt. Remember, however, that reporting the matter to a member of the security staff is crucial.

The terrorist may lose his nerve and just totally give up on the planned attack if he knows he was spotted. That makes life much easier for everyone!

“… another very common mistake made by amateurs when conducting surveillance is the failure to get into proper “character” for the job or, when in character, appearing in places or carrying out activities that are incongruent with the character’s “costume.” The terms used to describe these role-playing aspects of surveillance are “cover for status” and “cover for action.” Cover for status is a person’s purported identity — his costume. A person can pretend to be a student, a businessman, a repairman, etc. Cover for action explains why the person is doing what he or she is doing — why that guy has been standing on that street corner for half an hour.

In addition to plain old lurking, other giveaways include a person moving when the target moves, communicating when the target moves, avoiding eye contact with the target, making sudden turns or stops, or even using hand signals to communicate with other members of a surveillance team or criminal gang. Surveillants also can tip off the person they are watching by entering or leaving a building immediately after the person they are watching or simply by running in street clothes.

Sometimes, people who are experiencing the burn syndrome exhibit almost imperceptible behaviors that the target can sense more than observe. It may not be something that can be articulated, but the target just gets the gut feeling that there is something wrong or odd about the way a certain person is behaving toward them.”

In plain English, someone who is there when he/she has no good reason to be and looks unhappy at being noticed, warrants a second look. Should you report that person to the security staff? Go with your gut feel. Frankly, if that person has honest reasons to be there, being questioned by a security guard isn’t going to hurt, right?

But this requires us to be more alert. We cannot go through the day with our eyes glued to our mobile phones, checking Facebook or our Whatsapp chats, all the time. We should not let our minds be so preoccupied by the ticking off we got from our boss that morning or our kids’ atrocious exam grades that we don’t even notice the people around us. This kind of alertness and awareness is basic for preventing regular crime, how much more a terrorist attack!

Before you dismiss me as being a paranoid freak, let me say that being that aware of the people around you is enriching. You get to see life in the flesh, rather than through the lens of other people’s social media posts or Youtube videos. You appreciate more of the rhythm of life if you actually listen around you, rather than distract yourself by blasting your favourite MP3s over the earphones. Try it!

What if the terrorists are already there and you find yourself at the wrong place, at the wrong time, when the bullets start flying?

Granted, there are many variables: are you in an open or enclosed place? Are there many shooters or just a lone wolf? How near are you to the shooter? Unless the shooter somehow appears a few of steps away from you, the odds are that you won’t be able to reach the shooter in time to do any martial arts heroics, neutralize the attacker and save the day. As long as you aren’t trapped (in some enclosed room with no way out), you are better off trying to escape.

I know this isn’t what you’d expect to hear from my martial arts blog, but that is reality. Marc MacYoung has said before:

“It’s — technically speaking — a lot easier and safer to close and just kill the guy (and failing that, break him so bad that he’s either unconscious or crippled). But most people can’t do that — including most martial artists and so-called combative trained people. They lack the commitment and understanding how to. So instead — and this is another way to eat multiple bullets — they’ll try to ‘fight’ the guy.”

In another post, Mr MacYoung explains why escaping is usually the best option, how to do it and what mistakes to avoid. But to help us sum it up, we need to:

  • Run away, because it makes so much harder for the bullets to hit us (see the explanation of the pie slice diagram);
  • Crouch down to make yourself a smaller target;
  • Cover is better than concealment – cover will block the bullets while concealment only keep you from being seen.
  • Don’t Prairie Dog – i.e. stand up and out to look around when you hear repeated gunfire. We Singaporean guys have already gone through our Basic Military Training; we KNOW what gunfire sounds like. Get yourself to safety, and bring others with you!
  • Don’t hide behind something the gunman can walk up to and shoot you. Keep escaping till you get somewhere the gunman cannot hit you even by shooting out a window.

Read his original post here:

Conclusion: this is a heavy topic, one that is very far out from our normal Singaporean experience. It is a complicated topic, so my this post can only be the start. More of us need to get together and talk things through, to pool together expertise from veterans and professionals

I’m not the one to tell you everything you need to know to keep yourself safe from terrorism, I know too little. But we have to get started somewhere. Let’s start by acknowledging the danger and start practicing good habits that help reduce the risk. Let’s also have some idea of what we can do in the event, so that we have some hope of reacting properly instead of being caught off guard.

And if you found this post educational and useful, please share it with your friends. Let’s get the word out. Thanks!

Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu

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