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Singapore Imposes Tighter Inspections on All Vehicles Entering Country - 2003-03-15

Singapore has imposed tight new inspection restrictions on all vehicles crossing its border with Malaysia, amid fears that a U.S.-led war against Iraq could trigger terrorist attacks on Singaporean soil. Singapore is expressing support for an attack on Iraq with or without U.N. authorization.

Long lines of vehicles at the two border crossing points into Singapore stretched back into neighboring Malaysia. Extra border police were at work on the Singapore side, checking every car, truck and motorcycle entering from Malaysia.

The Police Coast Guard is being given new patrol boats, to use in the surveillance of ships and other vessels entering Singaporean waters. The storing, transporting or importing of chemical and biological agents for medical and commercial purposes will be closely regulated to prevent such items from being made into bombs.

The strict new procedures, which replace random vehicle checks, were triggered by fears of terrorist attacks as a war against Iraq looms larger. The authorities are ordering motorists to open all vehicle storage compartments, including trunks, glove compartments, and motorcycle seats. Motorcyclists are being made to hand over their helmets and turn out their pockets.

Officers are managing to check three vehicles at a time, but more than 55,000 vehicles normally make the crossing each day.

Singapore's home affairs minister, Wong Kan Seng, said the inconvenience of the checks is a small price to pay for the sake of security. "No one can guarantee that a terrorist attack will not happen again. Our approach must be to make it extremely difficult for terrorists to carry out their evil acts," he said. "It is better to deny the terrorists the capability to carry out their operations than to be taking the consequences of the actions."

Singapore detained 31 men during 2001 and 2002, charging them with planning to blow up the U.S. and Israeli embassies, plus local infrastructure facilities. The detainees are believed to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Muslim extremist group that has been linked to the bombing that killed almost 200 people last October on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Governments around the world have been bracing for retaliatory terrorist attacks if the United States invades Iraq, and countries that support the U.S. policy are believed to be the most likely targets.

Singapore, a staunch U.S. ally, has said it would prefer to see a second U.N. resolution authorizing military action, but says it would support an attack even without a such a resolution, if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein does not disarm immediately.