MacDonald House bomb explosion


MacDonald House bomb explosion

A bomb exploded in the MacDonald House building situated along Orchard Road on 10 March 1965 at 3.07 pm. The explosion claimed the lives of three people and injured at least 33 others.1 The bombing had been carried out as part of Indonesian’s Confrontation (also known as Konfrontasi) with Malaysia (which at the time included Singapore).2 Two Indonesian marine commandos, Osman bin Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun bin Said, were later caught, found responsible for the bombing and hanged on 17 October 1968 by the Singapore authorities.3 Their executions led to a souring of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Indonesia as the two men were regarded as war heroes by their countrymen.4 Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew sought to bring closure to the issue during his official trip to Jakarta in May 1973 when he sprinkled flowers on the graves of the two men.5

The bomb blast
Indonesian marine commandos Osman bin Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun bin Said arrived in Singapore on 10 March 1965 at about 11.00 am. Disguised as civilians, they proceeded to the MacDonald House building and each planted a bundle of explosives on the steps of the mezzanine floor near the lift area. After lighting up the fuse, they left the building at around 3.00 pm and boarded a bus. An eyewitness testified that he saw a Malayan Airways canvas travelling bag on the mezzanine floor that was producing a hissing noise with smoke coming out of it.6

The bomb exploded at 3.07 pm, ripping off a lift door while the inner walls of the mezzanine floor took the full force of the blast. Windows within a hundred yards were shattered and the explosion damaged almost every car parked outside the building. The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank housed within the building had closed for business only seven minutes earlier and 150 employees were closing their accounts when the explosion occurred. Witnesses recounted a sudden flash followed by a bang. The explosion was powerful enough to destroy the pillars of the building and exposed the steel reinforcements within them. Later examination of the building showed that 20 to 25 lb (9 to 11 kg) of nitroglycerine explosives were used for the bomb.7


Casualties, damages and aftermath
Two bank employees were killed immediately by the explosion: 36-year-old private secretary Elizabeth (Suzie) Choo and 23-year-old assistant secretary Juliet Goh. A third victim, 45-year-old Mohammed Yasin bin Kesit, a driver for the Malaya Borneo Building society, died a few days later after being in a coma following the explosion. Around 33 other people were injured in the blast with some warded at the General Hospital while others were given outpatient treatment.8

Besides the surrounding mezzanine floor area, the explosion also caused damage to the offices of the Australian High Commission located within the building. The blast also created widespread damage to the car showrooms located in the surrounding area owned by car dealers Cycle and Carriage and Wearne Brothers.9

At 3.30 pm, the reserve unit arrived and traffic police diverted traffic along Penang Road and Tank Road. Soon after, the British Army's bomb disposal squad arrived at the scene. Staff from the health department also arrived to clear the shattered glass pieces from the road. At 6.15 pm, then Minister for Health Yong Nyuk Lin visited the warded casualties at the hospital. Later that evening, then Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye condemned the attack as a "senseless act of cruelty".10

Indonesian Confrontation and effects on Singapore
The Confrontation period (1963–1966) saw Indonesia using military force to engage in acts of sabotage and terrorism against the states that comprised the Federation of Malaysia, namely Malaya, Singapore and the former British territories in North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak. The MacDonald House bombing was an example of this policy of intimidation, which was championed by then Indonesian President Sukarno because he opposed the formation of Malaysia, which he saw as a cover for the continuation of colonial influence and power in the region.11


Singapore was especially exposed to Indonesia’s subversive activities due to its proximity to the Indonesian Riau Islands. Tanjong Sekupang, one of the Riau Islands, was in fact used by the Indonesians to conduct training of volunteers for sabotage activities. In a statement to the Singapore Legislative Assembly on 18 December 1963, Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew asserted that Indonesian plans for subversive activities had already started early in the 1960s before the formal announcement of the Federation of Malaysia.12

The Indonesians used several business enterprises as fronts for conducting subversive activities, which included intelligence gathering and sabotage, in Singapore. These dummy commercial organisations were identified as GEMI (Gerakan Ekonomi Melayu Indonesia) in Johor Bahru, Duma Corporation at Bussorah Street and Malaysia Indonesia Corporation at Beach Road. The head of the Indonesian sabotage operations was Masintan Sihombeng, a former Indonesian consulate official in Singapore.13 He was arrested on 10 December 1963 as he was about to flee from Singapore to Pulau Samboe.14

Arrest and execution of the two saboteurs
Three days after the explosion, the two Indonesian marine commandos responsible for the MacDonald House bombing were caught while trying to escape from Singapore by sea. They were rescued at sea by a bumboat man who saw them clinging to a plank. At that time, they were not wearing military uniforms and had no identification papers. They were later taken on board a marine police boat and subsequently interrogated by the police before being charged with murder for their role in the MacDonald House bombing.15

On 20 October 1965, Harun bin Said and Osman bin Haji Mohamed Ali were convicted by the High Court of Singapore for the murder of three civilians resulting from the MacDonald House bombing and sentenced to death.16 Their appeals to the Federal Court of Malaysia were dismissed on 5 October 1966.17 Both men were hanged on 17 October 1968.18

Reactions in Indonesia
In Jakarta, the execution of the two Indonesian marine commandos caused a lot of public anger. A band of 400 students sacked the Singapore embassy in Indonesia and the residences of Singapore diplomats. They were upset as they felt that the two men were only carrying out the orders of the government of former President Sukarno. The students were reported to have used bamboo staves and smashed furniture and windows. They also ripped down Singapore national flags and national emblems. The attackers took less than an hour and they later went to the security headquarters building in Jakarta where the bodies of the two men were lying in state.19 Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians subsequently lined the streets for the funeral process of the two men, who were buried with full honours at the National Heroes cemetery.20


Seeking closure
The execution of the two Indonesian marine commandos was an obstacle for Singapore in establishing good bilateral relations with Indonesia. During a visit to Jakarta in May 1973, then Prime Minister Lee visited the Kalibata Heroes Cemetery and scattered flowers on the graves of the two men as a gesture of good will. This gesture was praised by the Indonesian press and eventually led to better bilateral relations between the two countries.21


Controversy over naming of ship
In February 2014, the Indonesian Navy announced that it would name one of its new frigates KRI Usman Harun in honour of the two marine commandos. Singapore officials, including Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam, raised their concerns to the Indonesian government over this decision “and the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims [of the MacDonald House bombing]”.22 The issue led to strained bilateral relations with Singapore cancelling invitations for 100 Indonesian officials to the Singapore Air Show and Indonesia responding by cancelling the scheduled visits of senior defence officials to Singapore.23

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa tried to repair ties by assuring that “no ill will” was intended in the navy’s decision.24 Indonesia’s General Moeldoko subsequently apologised for the naming decision. Singapore’s Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen welcomed the move and announced that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) would reciprocate by resuming bilateral ties with the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).25




Authors

Mohamed Effendy Abdul Hamid and Kartini Saparudin



References
1. Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank. (1965, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bomb victim No. 3 dies of wounds. (1965, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Sodhy, P. (1988). Malaysian-American relations during Indonesia's Confrontation against Malaysia, 1963–66. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 19(1), 112–114. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
3. Hwang, T. F. (1965, October 7). Indons not in uniform, says judge. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; S'pore govt gives reasons for 'no' to pleas for mercy. (1968, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ridzwan Rahmat. (2014, February 6). IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. Retrieved from IHS Jane’s 360 website: http://www.janes.com/article/33553/singapore-registers-concerns-about-indonesian-opv-name
4. Singapore Embassy in Jakarta sacked. (1968, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, K. C. (1993). Diplomacy of a tiny state.Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 262–271. (Call no.: RSING 327.5957 LEE)
6. Sinnadurai, V. (Ed.). (1990). The Privy Council cases: Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, 1875–1990 (Vol. 2). Kuala Lumpur: Professional Law Books, p. 518. (Call no.: RSING 347.594204 PRI v. 2); Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank. (1965, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Sinnadurai, V. (Ed.). (1990). The Privy Council cases: Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, 1875–1990 (Vol. 2). Kuala Lumpur: Professional Law Books, p. 518. (Call no.: RSING 347.594204 PRI v. 2); Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank. (1965, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank. (1965, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Bomb victim No. 3 dies of wounds. (1965, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; S'pore Govt gives reasons for 'no' to pleas for mercy. (1968, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank. (1965, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank. (1965, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Sodhy, P. (1988). Malaysian-American relations during Indonesia's Confrontation against Malaysia, 1963–66. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 19(1), 112–114. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
12. Singapore. Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official Report. (1963, December 18). Indonesian saboteurs and local fifth columnists (Vol. 22). Singapore: [s.n], cols 843–846. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN); Indonesia began to plot long before Malaysia was mooted. (1963, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Singapore. Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official Report. (1963, December 18). Indonesian saboteurs and local fifth columnists (Vol. 22). Singapore: [s.n], cols 843–846. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN); Sam, J. (1963, December 20). Sabotage, Inc. boss 'no good at business'. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Indonesia began to plot long before Malaysia was mooted. (1963, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Bank bomb blast: Two held at sea. (1965, March 14). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hwang, T. F. (1965, October 7). Indons not in uniform, says judge. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Death for Indon bombers. (1965, October 21). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. MacDonald House bombing: Four fail in appeal. (1966, October 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. S'pore govt gives reasons for 'no' to pleas for mercy. (1968, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singapore Embassy in Jakarta sacked. (1968, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Malik defies mob. (1968, October 19). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lee, K. C. (1993). Diplomacy of a tiny state. Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 262–271. (Call no.: RSING 327.5957 LEE)
22. Zakir Hussain. (2014, February 6). Singapore concerned over naming of Indonesian navy ship after executed commandos. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/singapore-registers-concerns-over-indonesian-navy-ship-20140206
23. Zakir Hussain. (2014, February 6). No ill intent in naming warship: Indonesia's Foreign Minister. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/the-macdonald-house-bombing/story/no-ill-intent-naming-warship-indonesias-foreign-mini
24. Zakir Hussain. (2014, February 6). No ill intent in naming warship: Indonesia's Foreign Minister. The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/the-macdonald-house-bombing/story/no-ill-intent-naming-warship-indonesias-foreign-mini
25. Singapore welcomes Indonesia’s apology over naming of frigate. (2014, April 16). The Straits Times. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/singapore-welcomes-indonesias-apology-over-naming-frig-0



The information in this article is valid as at 7 August 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Politics and Government>>National security
Events>>Disasters
Events
MacDonald House Bombing, Singapore, 1965
Political violence--Singapore
Bombings--Singapore
Politics and Government
People and communities>>Social conflict>>Terrorism

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