Faber House explosions

Faber House, a 12-storey office building along Orchard Road, was the site of two explosions in the mid-1980s.1 The first – and largest – explosion occurred on 17 March 1985 and the second on 21 December 1986, both Sundays.2 No one was injured. The building is owned by United Overseas Land (UOL), a subsidiary of the United Overseas Bank group.3

First explosion: 17 March 1985
The explosion occurred at about 11.30 pm.4 The only people in the building at the time were the security guards.5 The police cordoned the area off less than an hour later and bomb disposal experts from the army were at the scene by 1 am.6 No one was injured in the incident.7

It was believed that less than 500 g of plastic explosives had been planted in a 25-cm-wide drain running parallel to the sidewall of the building. Because of this wall and a row of two-storey shophouses next to Faber House, the impact of the blast was directed upwards and not just sideways.8 The impact left a hole in the drain and knocked the roof tiles off the adjacent building.9 At Faber House, the glass doors on the ground floor and the glass windows from the first to sixth storeys were shattered, and parts of the black marble wall, measuring 2.5 cm in thickness, were blown off.10 The damage was not considered serious and UOL estimated the cost to be less than S$50,000.11

The day after the explosion, the police received a call informing them that a bomb had been set to go off at Faber House at 9.45 am. The building was quickly evacuated just after 9.20 am. This was found to be a hoax and all workers were allowed to return to the building later that morning.12

There were two diplomatic missions located in the building then – the Israeli embassy and the Canadian high commission.13 Although both reported that they did not receive any bomb threats,14 there was suspicion that the bomb had been targeted at the Israeli embassy.15 No one claimed responsibility and the case remained unsolved until 1991, when a Palestinian guerrilla named Fuad Hassin al-Shara confessed, after he was captured by the Israeli army, that he was behind the explosion and that his target had been the Israeli embassy.16

Second explosion: 21 December 1986
This explosion occurred at 8.40 pm. By 9 pm, the police had cordoned the area off. As with the previous incident, no one was injured. The blast originated from a drain near a power substation at the back of Faber House, but investigators did not find evidence of any explosive substance. The drain was left with a hole measuring 30 cm wide and 30 cm deep.17 However, there was no damage to Faber House.18 Instead, the nearby Singapore Chinese Girls’ School had borne the brunt of the impact. The school was located on a slope about 15 m behind Faber House, at Emerald Hill Road. The explosion caused fresh cracks to appear in the school’s walls and shattered some of its glass window panes.19

The Israeli embassy and Canadian high commission were still tenants in Faber House at the time.20 The explosion was similarly suspected to be the work of terrorists who were targeting the Israeli embassy. Along with the 1985 explosion, the incident has been cited by government officials and the media as an example of early terrorism in Singapore.21

1987 bomb hoax
In November 1987, the police received a call about a bomb in Faber House. Acting on the information, the police sealed off the building while bomb disposal experts scoured the premises. No bomb was found and people were allowed into the building about 3.5 hours later at about 12 pm.22

The 1985 bomb attack and possibly the 1986 explosion at Faber House were some of Singapore’s earliest direct encounters with international terrorism, highlighting Singapore’s vulnerability to such attacks, even before the high-profile hijacking of Singapore Airlines’ flight SQ 117 in 1991.23 Given Singapore’s openness and significant foreign presence, the possibility of terrorist acts occurring in the country remains a constant threat to national security.24


Valerie Chew

1. “Only on Orchard Road,” Straits Times, 9 August 1993, 20 (From NewspaperSG); Goh Chok Tong, “Dialogue Session with Union Leaders/Members and Employers,” speech, 14 October 2001, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2001101403)
2. Gillian Pow Chong and Ng Weng Hoong, “Faber House Explosion,” Straits Times, 18 March 1985, 28; Sumiko Tan, “Blast Near Faber House,” Straits Times, 22 December 1986, 1; “CID Takes Over Probe into Faber House Blast,” Straits Times, 20 March 1985, 9; Lai Yew Kong and Suresh Nair, “What Sunday’s Blast Did...,” Straits Times, 23 December 1986, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “CID Takes Over”; “Search for Answers,” Straits Times, 19 March 1985, 10 (From NewsaperSG); “Only on Orchard Road.”
4. Chong and Ng, “Faber House Explosion”; “Search for Answers.”
5. “Search for Answers.”
6. Chong and Ng, “Faber House Explosion.”
7. “Search for Answers”; “CID Takes Over.”
8. “Upward Impact of Faber House Blast,” Straits Times, 19 March 1985, 1; “Faber House: It Was Plastic Explosives,” Straits Times, 11 April 1985, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Search for Answers.”
10. “Upward Impact of Faber House Blast”; “Search for Answers”; “It Was Plastic Explosives.”
11. “Search for Answers”; “CID Takes Over.”
12. “Search for Answers.”
13. Chong and Ng, “Faber House Explosion”; “Search for Answers.”
14. “Search for Answers”; “CID Takes Over.”
15. Goh, “Dialogue Session with Union Leaders/Members and Employers.”
16. “Search for Answers”; “CID Takes Over”; “Palestinian Guerrilla Confesses to Faber House Bomb Blast,” Straits Times, 30 May 1991 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); “Only on Orchard Road.”
17. Tan, “Blast Near Faber House”; Lai and Nair, “What Sunday’s Blast Did....”
18. Tan, “Blast Near Faber House.”
19. Lai and Nair, “What Sunday’s Blast Did....”
20. Tan, “Blast Near Faber House”; Lai and Nair, “What Sunday’s Blast Did....”
21. Goh, “Dialogue Session with Union Leaders/Members and Employers.”
22. J. Katigbak,  “Two Explosions and a Bomb Scare Reported in Singapore,” Reuters News, 10 November 1987. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
23. Goh, “Dialogue Session with Union Leaders/Members and Employers”; Chua Lee Hoong, “Security – But At What Price?” Straits Times, 16 October 2001, H4. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Goh, “Dialogue Session with Union Leaders/Members and Employers.”

The information in this article is valid as of 2009 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.

Faber House Explosions, Singapore, 1985-1986
National security