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The recent break-in into the train depot allegedly by a Swiss national to spray-paint graffiti on carriages is yet another stupendous breach of public security. This latest incident comes on the heels of the Mas Selamat escape in 2008.
While the Minister for Home Affairs Mr Wong Kan Seng kept the Mas Selamat breakout silent for four hours allowing the suspect to make headway in the escape, the MRT break-in was not discovered until 48 hours later.
A terrorist act could have been planned on the trains and the public would have been completely in the dark and at the mercy of the authorities who were, like the Mas Selamat fiasco, asleep at the switch.
It is already three weeks since the break-in took place at the Changi depot and Mr Wong has yet to say a word about the matter. The Minister is charged with safe-guarding of key installations around the country. While he makes a show of deploying armed guards at the MRT stations, he has failed to deploy security personnel to guard the most vulnerable nodes of the MRT system. Why was this so?
The terrorist bombing of a train in Madrid, Spain in 2004 where 191 people were killed and 1,800 wounded point to the seriousness of the MRT breach that could have resulted in a catastrophic disaster in Singapore.
Mr Wong must take responsibility for the security lapse and tell the public what went wrong. The Government must be completely transparent about the matter. The Minister’s silence, like his silence in the Mas Selamat, is indicative of the the confusion and/or lack of transparency at the Ministry under his charge.
Pushing the responsibility to the SMRT management is equally unacceptable. While the SMRT has issued a public statement, it still does not absolve the Minister from his role in the latest blunder.
The Singapore Democrats demand an immediate response from the Government.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party
Subway graffiti case stirs up Singapore
Oliver Fricker, a 32-year-old Swiss software consultant working in the city-state, is on trial for allegedly breaking into a depot and leaving an elaborate work of aerosol art on the side of a carriage in May.
Police have launched an international manhunt for his alleged British accomplice, Lloyd Dane Alexander, who managed to slip out of Singapore before being found out.
The incident raised questions about the security of key facilities in Singapore, a staunch US ally that sees itself as a prime terrorist target, and the authorities are indignant.
Only last month, Indonesian officials said they found a map of Singapore’s MRT train network in the home of an Islamic extremist shot dead in Jakarta.
Singapore has long considered vandalism a serious crime and punishes culprits with jail terms, fines and caning, and reports of terrorist plots against the island have given the subway graffiti case an added dimension.
The suspects should not expect leniency — an American teenager, Michael Fay, was caned in 1994 despite US appeals for clemency after he vandalised cars and public property.
The defaced MRT train has been scrubbed clean but a clip taken by a commuter can still be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CV4JYKBEQo, attracting over 113,000 hits so far.
Some comments posted on YouTube praised the graffiti as a work of art and one hailed the two Europeans as heroes for daring to defy the government.
Others demanded that the two men be caned, a controversial penalty dating back to British colonial rule.
Martyn See, a Singaporean filmmaker who has been in trouble with the authorities for political documentaries, said he and his friends “admire what Oliver Fricker did” but wondered why the Swiss man stayed after the act.
“He is courageous but stupid at the same time,” he told AFP.
See said the government was “more concerned about the embarrassment” rather than security.
John Harrison, a homeland security expert with the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the vandalism case has both legal and security dimensions.
“There is a real legal issue here. This individual committed an act in Singapore that is very serious,” he said.
“But there is a broader question, there are security implications for this, that somebody was able to penetrate a depot unnoticed and then commit damage.”
Harrison added: “This is not something to be taken lightly and I think the Singapore authorities are acting responsibly in this situation.”
He told AFP that Singapore was a “Tier One” target for terrorists and the MRT network would always be a key area for any attack.
Last month, Singapore sent a security team to Jakarta after a map of the MRT was discovered in the home of Ahmad Sayid Maulana, an alleged member of an extremist group who was killed by an anti-terrorist squad on May 12.
The opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said Wednesday that the incident was “yet another stupendous breach of public security” two years after an alleged extremist leader, Mas Selamat, escaped from custody.
Mas Selamat was recaptured in Malaysia last year.
The SDP said the government was “asleep at the switch” during the security breach at the train depot.
Singapore’s metro operator apologised for the “serious security lapse” and promised to install more surveillance cameras and reinforce the perimeter fences at the system’s five depots with razor wire.
The metro system serves 1.5 million passengers daily and its staff are trained to handle emergency situations including chemical, biological, radiological and explosive threats.
Local media have speculated that Fricker and Alexander could be part of an underground group of graffiti artists using metro trains around the world to display their work.