SINGAPORE : A massive manhunt was underway on Thursday on Pulau Tekong for three robbers, believed to be Indonesians, who are armed with a pistol and a shotgun.
The trio fled to the island, used by Singapore for military training, in a wooden boat after two robberies in Johor on Thursday morning.
The hunt on Pulau Tekong began at 9 am.
Heavily armed soldiers, police special force officers as well as a dozen sniffer dogs were sent to flush out the three armed robbers.
To stop them from escaping using the same boat in which they fled from Johor, the island was cordoned off by the Coast Guard.
And since 90 percent of Pulau Tekong is covered in dense forest, two helicopters also joined the manhunt.
The Police Coast Guard has also set up a command post at the jetty to facilitate the search operations.
At least one Malaysian patrol craft was also spotted in the waters just off Pulau Tekong.
"This group of robbers, one armed with a revolver and the other with a pump gun ... I believe they are dangerous," said Superintendent Tajudin Isa, Officer-in-Charge, Kota Tinggi District.
There is no housing on the island but there are two army camps, where most 18-year-old males do their three-month basic military training.
Training in camp is proceeding and only field training has been suspended.
"We recalled the trainees and recruits on the island back to camp. All of them are accounted for and safe. However, training is proceeding as normal because we are in control of the situation. What's happening now is that we've activated operationally trained soldiers," said Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Tan, Chief General Staff, HQ Infantry.
Right through the afternoon, more and more troops were deployed to Pulau Tekong to join in the manhunt.
By the evening, there were some 700 soldiers, police special forces and Gurkhas.
"To search for three people in a forested area is not easy," said Lt-Col Tan.
"Our soldiers are equipped with personal assault rifles. They are all trained to respond according to the situation."
To make things even more difficult, it also began to rain in the late afternoon, which slowed down the manhunt further.
The search began in the reclaimed area in the southern part of the island, where the robbers landed.
But by the evening, the focus had shifted to the heavily-forested central and northern parts of Pulau Tekong.
As it turned dark, troops had to use night-vision goggles.
"If we assess it is safe for our officers and the SAF officers to continue with the search, we will do so. If we assess it is not safe to do so, then we will stop the search, secure the area we have covered and then resume our search at daylight," said Senior Assistant Commissioner Tan Puay Kern of the Singapore Police Force. - CNA